Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023 in Ottawa. Smith is set to speak by phone with Trudeau today to discuss possible help for wildfires raging in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Wildfires continue in Alberta as premier, prime minister discuss aid plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised help Monday for Alberta’s fight against wildfires as thousands of people remained out of their homes.

The federal government will work with the Red Cross to set up a matching fund to assist Albertans affected by the fires, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa following a phone call with Premier Danielle Smith.

Alberta has asked for more firefighting personnel, and more police may be made available, said federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

“We’re working with … the province in order to make sure that the RCMP have sufficient resources available on the ground,” Blair said.

About 29,000 people have been ordered to leave their homes in several communities in recent days. An evacuation order was lifted late Sunday for Edson, a town of about 8,400 people west of Edmonton, although it was still in place in some surrounding areas.

About 100 fires remained active Monday.

On the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta, more than 40 structures, mostly homes, were lost.

Darryel Sowan, the community’s emergency management communications co-ordinator, said some 3,700 people left the area quickly after the evacuation order was put in place last week.

There is no road into the community, so people had to use boats and higher-risk people were flown out.

“Because it’s isolated, a lot of those people have never even been away from the reserve,” Sowan said.

“We want to get them back there and they want to go home. We are trying our best.”

In central Alberta, a wildfire that destroyed homes in Drayton Valley remained out of control.

In a post on social media, Brazeau County officials warned people not to approach the evacuation area, saying a change in weather patterns could make the situation even more dangerous.

“It’s worth noting that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The incident is not expected to end soon,” the post said.

Reception centres were operating in Edmonton and Calgary to help evacuees and arrange for shelter.

So far this year, 405 wildfires have burned nearly 400,000 hectares, said the latest data available on the Alberta government’s website. Last year at this time, 180 fires had burned 417 hectares.