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25,000 flee out-of-control wildfires in western Canada

OTTAWA (AFP) – Alberta announced a state of emergency on Saturday as wildfires flared across the Canadian province, forcing 25,000 people to flee their homes in what a top official said was an “unprecedented” crisis.

Thousands more have been told to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice, as the number of fires fanned by strong winds, jumped to 110.

One-third of the blazes were listed as out of control.

“We’ve declared a provincial state of emergency to protect the safety, health and welfare of Albertans,” the province’s Premier Danielle Smith told a news conference after a meeting of her government’s emergency management committee.

Earlier she said the province – one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions – “has been experiencing a hot, dry spring and with so much kindling, all it takes is a few sparks to ignite some truly frightening wildfires. These conditions have resulted in the unprecedented situation our province is facing today”, she said.

According to Smith, more than 20 communities have been evacuated and at least 122,000 hectares have burned so far.

The state of emergency declaration gives the government of Alberta “greater powers to respond to extreme situations,” she said, including mobilising additional resources and unlocking emergency funds. Almost all of Alberta – which is in the midst of an election – and much of neighbouring Saskatchewan province as well as a large swath of the Northwest Territories face extreme fire risks, according to a federal government fire danger map.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair tweeted that Ottawa stood ready to provide federal assistance, if needed.

A smoke column rises from wildfire Edson Wildfire-035 near Shining Bank, Alberta, Canada. PHOTO: CNA
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