A wildfire, located around 15 kilometres northwest of Bonnyville, started at approximately 6 p.m. Sunday evening, according to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD).
Residents of the Bonnyville area became aware of the fire soon after as an ominous plume of dark grey smoke rose high above the MD and drifted east towards Cold Lake.
At around 7 p.m. the winds picked up and shifted direction, pushing flames and smoke in the direction of the Moose Lake Campground, though the fire remained in a relatively unpopulated, marsh-like area, after initially burning through a forested area.
Leslie Lozinski, forest information officer for SRD, confirmed some residents in the area were evacuated, however, attempts to confirm the number of evacuees were unsuccessful.
The wildfire was estimated at 650 hectares in size and is still classified as out of control as of the Nouvelle's press deadline Monday.
However, Lozinski said fire crews from the Bonnyville area and sustainable resources officers had been working through the night Sunday and into Monday morning using bulldozers to build a fireguard in an effort to contain the south end of the flames.
“The Cat units go through and scrape a path down to the bare mineral soil to stop the fire from progressing,” said Lozinski. “(Monday) crews completed a fireguard on the south side of the fire.
“If the winds are too strong, it could jump the guard but that did not happen and we currently have crews reinforcing the fire guard, making it wider.”
During peak moments of the fire Sunday evening, multiple air-tankers and helicopters could be seen flying overhead, dumping water and fire-retardant on the flames. Witnesses said at times flames reached one hundred feet in the air, while burning through the older portions of the forested area.
Lozinski said an incident commander determines the fire's behaviour and subsequently classifies it. A fire can be classified as out of control, being held, under control and extinguished.
“The fire will remain out of control until we determine it has been held and being held means the fire is no longer growing,” explained Lozinski.
As word of the fire spread, some area residents raced to the scene.
Local resident Mickey Fagnan literally ran down a quad trail to do what he could to help a neighbour protect his land from the fire.
“It got pretty hectic a few times,” said Fagnan. “The grass would go up and there would be a wall of flames five or six feet high.”
A group of people, including Fagnan and members of the Antoniuk and Blain families did whatever they could to control the flames around the property.
“We were using handfuls of willows and brooms. There wasn't really anything else to use,” said Fagnan. “We were in an area not really accessible by vehicles.”
A tractor was eventually brought into the area to try to keep the flames from spreading into the trees.
Fagnan said the smoke was so thick in some places, he could not see more than a few feet ahead.
According to SRD, the exact source of the wildfire is still under investigation.
There have been 294 wildfires burning in Alberta, since April 1. Currently 55 are actively burning, while three of those, including the fire northwest of Bonnville, are considered out of control. Lozinski said the numbers are not out of the ordinary for this time of year.
With the Bonnyville Station firefighters still on scene Monday, no official fire ban has been put in place, though a representative from the fire station said a fire ban will likely be put in effect early this week.
Check BonnyvilleNouvelle.ca for the latest news on the wildfire and for updates on a fire ban within the MD.