CALGARY, Alberta — Judy Greenwood doesn’t want to leave. But when evacuation alerts on her phone blared repeatedly and emergency officials knocked on her door, she and her husband loaded their four cats into the car and drove out of their village to escape the approaching fires.
In much of the western province of Alberta, this time of year has long been fire season. But this year, a large number of boreal forest fires broke out early and were widespread, leading the province to declare a state of emergency.
As of Tuesday morning, about 30,000 people have fled their homes in sparsely populated, mostly northern areas of the province as 89 active forest fires burn across nearly a million hectares.
There have been 409 fires this season – which usually runs from March 1 to October 31 – an unusually high number. And for residents of vulnerable areas, which evoked uncomfortable memories of 2016, when the raging fire moved from the forest to the oil capital of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
The fire forced the evacuation of more than 90,000 people, destroyed more than 2,400 homes and businesses, and disrupted production at the United States’ largest source of imported oil. At over four billion Canadian dollars, it remains Canada’s costliest disaster.
As was the case during the Fort McMurray fires, many of today’s evacuees, a group that includes thousands of members of First Nations communities, have sought refuge in Edmonton, the province’s capital and second largest city. .
Insecurity plagues many displaced people. The thick smoke that hung over many areas made it impossible to determine by aerial survey the fate of many houses and other buildings.
“There’s no question it’s a challenging time,” Danielle Smith, Alberta’s premier, told reporters Monday afternoon. “Tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes and jobs. They left everything they owned, wondering if they would lose everything they worked for.”
Cloudy skies and mostly rain eased pressure on firefighters and allowed some people to return to their homes. The damage is currently limited to a few dozen houses, some infrastructure and roads. No deaths or injuries were reported.
The effects of the fires on the oil industry were minimal, although some producers were forced to stop a small percentage of production.
Ms. Greenwood, who left his village, It was said that sprinklers placed on a road by firefighters successfully kept the fire away from his home in Wildwood.
“I want to hug them and thank them,” she said from Edmonton, where she lives with her son and other relatives. “They saved our house.”
It remains unclear to Ms. Greenwood on Tuesday when she, her husband and their pets will be allowed to return home.
At the evacuation center in Edmonton, Trevor Sundman, an oil worker, said that when he left his community in Drayton Valley, “there was no smoke or anything.” But, he added, “I’ve seen videos of what it is now and it looks like everything’s on fire.”
Families displaced for longer than seven consecutive days are eligible for financial support provided by the government, along with other services, such as food and other supplies, which are distributed spread through evacuation centers.
Many of the evacuees are worried not only about the safety of their families, but also about the welfare of the cows, horses, bison and other animals in their farms.
Outside the fire zone in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, Ivy McCallum watches over three horses that have been evacuated.
“I have the resources to help people: I have the land, I have the trailer, I have the truck,” said Ms. McCallum, 24.
Wildfires are getting bigger and more intense in western Canada as the seasons generally get longer. Research suggests that heat and drought associated with global warming are the main reasons for the increase in larger and more intense fires.
Across the mountains in the neighboring province of British Columbia, a fire engulfed the entire community of Lytton in 2021 after temperatures reached a record 49.6 degrees Celsius, or 121.3 Fahrenheit.
The fires in Alberta come as the province prepares for elections on May 29. Under normal circumstances, Ms. Smith, who has been critical of several climate measures introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is prohibited by provincial election rules from making major decisions during the period before the vote. The emergency, however, changed that and brought Ms. Smith to ask for federal aid.
As a result, members of the Canadian military are on standby and will be deployed by the federal government if needed, said Ms. Smith. Troops often assist with evacuations and infrastructure repairs required by disasters. The federal government has also offered to provide other forms of support, and several provinces have sent firefighters to Alberta.
Mike Ellis, Alberta’s public safety minister, told reporters there are limits to what any government or agency can do to put out fires. In previous years, a change in weather was ultimately the only force that brought the fires under control.
“I’m letting everyone know because there is no silver bullet solution to our response,” he said.
Ian Austen reported from Calgary, Alberta, Amber Bracken from Edmonton, Alberta, and Vjosa Isai from Toronto.