More than 13,000 people have been evacuated from the western Canadian province of Alberta, where unusually warm and dry weather has been mixing with strong winds to fuel dozens of wildfires, officials said on Friday.
The number of active wildfires across Alberta grew to more than 100 on Friday night, up from 78 earlier in the day. As of early Saturday morning, more than a third were still classified as “out of control.”
Stephen Lacroix, the managing director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference on Friday morning that the wildfire situation in the province was “evolving and extremely fluid.”
In northern Alberta, 20 households, along with a police station and a water treatment plant, were lost to wildfire in the rural community of Fox Lake, the authorities said on Friday night.
Hundreds of miles south, the communities facing new, mandatory evacuation orders on Friday night included Edson, a town of about 8,000 people that is less than 150 miles west of Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.
In neighboring British Columbia, the same unseasonably warm weather has caused snowpack to melt rapidly, setting off flooding and mudslides. A number of flood warnings and other advisories were in effect across the province early Saturday.
In the United States, warm, dry and windy conditions in the Southwest and the Southern Plains were expected to create weather conducive to wildfires over the weekend, the National Weather Service warned in a forecast. More than three million people in that part of the country were under fire-related warnings or watches early Saturday morning.
Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the Western United States, and wildfire seasons are growing longer. Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increase in bigger and stronger fires.
In Alberta, early spring tends to be the time of greatest risk for wildfires. That is partly because spring snow melt leaves a significant amount of dead grass and other potential fire fuel on the land.
The latest wildfires were some of about 379 recorded in Alberta this year. “That’s significantly more wildfire activity, for this time of year, than we’ve certainly seen anytime in the recent past,” Christie Tucker, a spokeswoman for the province’s wildfire agency, told reporters.
As of Friday morning, wildfires in Alberta had burned nearly 100 square miles of land in the province, an area nearly a third of the size of New York City.