Extreme temperatures across Alberta produce smoke, fire and heat warnings

From High Level to Fort McMurray to Edmonton, heat warnings are in effect for nearly all of Alberta.

Temperatures in northern Alberta are expected to climb to between 30 and 35 C and will persist until at least midweek, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

In Calgary, where Stampede is underway, attendees face temperatures in the low 30s.

Rob Griffith, lead metrologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, says the heat in western Canada is due to a system of high pressure, mixed with longer days and limited overnight cooling.

"What that does is provide warm, clear, stable conditions."

Griffith said the extreme heat will last until Thursday in Calgary but could persist in southern Alberta through until the weekend.

That heat is bad news for the total 68 active wildfires burning in the province, 14 of which are designated out of control according to Alberta Wildfire.

"It means we're going to see more active wildfire behaviour and probably new wildfire starts," Melissa Story, a provincial information officer with Alberta Wildfire, told CBC News on Saturday.

The risk of fire danger is very high in the province, as a heat warning is in effect for nearly all of northern Alberta.
The risk of fire danger is very high in the province, as a heat warning is in effect for nearly all of Alberta. (Government of Alberta)

With increased wind in addition to heat, fires are expected to become more dangerous and more active.

While a wetter spring provided some respite to the wildfire season compared to last year, Story says it doesn't take long to see things dry up.

"We're definitely looking at different conditions on the landscape and being further into the fire season … wildfires typically move a little bit slower — but with the warmer temperatures we are going to see them drying out very quickly."

Griffith also noted the impact the heat will have on fires in the province and that in addition to the hazards posed by heat, there is smoke.

"Obviously hot and dry conditions are not good for forest fires," he said. "The smoke is also creating another health hazard."

For people facing extreme heat, Griffith said to stay hydrated, take breaks in cool indoor public spaces, and to check in on those vulnerable to heat-related illness.

Where there's smoke

The fire weather index forecasted for Sunday puts much of the northern half of Alberta at very high or extreme fire danger.

One of the out-of-control fires is MWF047 roughly eight kilometres northeast of Suncor's Firebag site, located about 50 km northeast of Fort McKay and 70 km northeast of Fort McMurray. An update Sunday morning said there was minimal fire behaviour overnight and good progress is being made. It covers about 12,200 hectares in size.

An update on Saturday said the fire in the High Level Forest Area, about 25 kilometres from Chateh, Alta., increased to about 580 hectares — up from around 280 Friday night.

Due to the smoke from those wildfires, an air quality advisory was issued for much of northern Alberta on Saturday morning, including Cold Lake, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Wood Buffalo.