Hundreds of Slave Lake residents fleeing a major wildfire that has devastated their community are now being hosted in Westlock.
All 7,000 residents of Slave Lake were forced to evacuate their community over the weekend, heading to temporary shelters at the Athabasca Multiplex, the Expo Centre in Edmonton and the Westlock and District Community Hall.
Hospitals in Westlock, Boyle and Athabasca have also taken in 29 patients evacuated from Slave Lake General Hospital.
Town CAO Darrell Garceau, who was acting as a media spokesperson on behalf of the volunteers, said they have had approximately 300 to 400 evacuees register at the Westlock Community Hall.
He said the hall is equipped to accommodate 200 people, but he knows that many people are staying in motels and hotels around Westlock. A number of people were also staying in campgrounds in the area.
"We haven't seen as many people as we expected, " he said, noting that the majority of evacuees are staying in Athabasca and Edmonton.
Garceau said they are providing food services and accommodations at the community hall, as well as providing access to the showers and facilities at the Westlock Recreation Centre.
"Our staff and volunteers are working really hard (to take care of the people from Slave Lake), " he said.
Garceau said they have seen an extraordinary amount of volunteer support from the community, as many other residents beyond those personnel designated under the emergency management plan have come to help out.
"The response from the community has been overwhelming, " he said.
Garceau said they are taking in some donations at the hall — food and toiletries — but the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Westlock is their primary drop-off point for donations.
Branch manager Avril Campbell said she has received numerous calls from people who want to help, either by housing people who need somewhere to stay or by offering any services they can.
However, the Westlock Legion is no long actively soliciting donations to assist the victims of the Slave Lake fire.
She said the Legion will continue to accept donations it receives, but people who call asking what they can do to help will be asked to call back later.
If you are planning to make a donation, the following items will be needed besides food: disposable diapers, pillows, bedding, toiletries, shoes, toys, baby items and men's clothing.
Westlock County fire chief John Biro said local firefighters were also called out to Slave Lake to assist with structural fire protection on Sunday night. They were there all night and returned just before noon on Monday.
He said he wasn't sure if they would be called up there again, as there is still a high risk of a major fire in Westlock County.
A total fire ban is now in effect throughout in the county after a rash of fires throughout the municipality.
Biro said they had three fires on Saturday and another six on Sunday. Several volunteer fire departments attended to the blazes.
He said they are advising people to exercise extreme caution due to the high winds, as fires can spread extremely quickly under the current dry conditions.
"We have the high potential of something happening, " Biro said.
Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) is currently tending to a fire north of Long Island Lake that they believe was started by ATVs, he indicated.
SRD has the fire contained and is pumping water into the area with the assistance of the county's public works tanker and crew.
Biro said the Jarvie and Fawcett fire departments were also called to a large fire roughly halfway between Chisholm and Flatbush.
The cause and the extent of the Chisholm fire are not known at this time. Biro said anyone traveling north should be ready for delays; although the highways are mostly open, there are still emergency crews working by the highway.