July 9, 2012, Edmonton – A busy and vital highway that connects southern and northern Canada has been closed because of an out-of-control wildfire in Alberta's very dry northern region.
The one-square-kilometre blaze forced police and fire authorities Sunday night to shut down the Mackenzie Highway, about 900 kilometres north of Edmonton.
Crystal Burrows, acting wildfire spokeswoman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said thick smoke initially threatened driver safety and the flames eventually jumped the road.
"We asked for the highway to be closed just to protect the public, and to make it safe for the firefighters in the area," Burrows said.
RCMP said traffic in both directions was affected by the closure and there is no word on when the highway would reopen.
Another out-of-control fire about 200 kilometres south — and which also covers about one kilometre — led to an air-quality advisory for the tiny community of La Crete.
Burrows said the blaze was about 15 kilometres to the southeast of the hamlet, but the wind was currently pushing it in the opposite direction and there were no injuries or evacuations.
She said fire officials were keeping a close eye on the situation in case weather and wind conditions changed. Several helicopters, as well as bulldozers, were helping firefighters on the ground battle the flames.
Burrows said conditions are drier in northern Alberta than they are in other parts of the province because the area hasn't received nearly as much rain. She said the forecast isn't calling for the skies to open up for at least the rest of the week.
On top of that, she said, this is the season for lightning.
"Any lightning that comes through will readily ignite a lot of the smaller fuels," Burrows warned. "Any dried timber will easily ignite right now."
"Hopefully we'll get some precipitation."