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Prayers for Rain to Put Out Wildfires Were Answered in Alberta, but Next Came Floods

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Alberta firefighters, farmers, and others may have wished for rain to help the firefighters battle raging wildfires that started at the end of April, but now the rain just won’t stop, causing evacuations, shelter-in-place orders, river advisories, and flood warnings throughout the Prairie province.

Just a few days after more than 8,000 homeowners in Yellowhead County and the Edson area were told they could go home—after being forced out twice already due to wildfires—heavy rain has led to flooding and fresh evacuation orders in some areas.

In some regions, residents were advised to be prepared to evacuate with one hour’s notice and told to gather their pets, important documents, and medication.

Yellowhead County had a flash flood warning issued at 5:42 p.m. local time, with residents being warned that they had to evacuate due to heavy rainfall.

“Yellowhead County has received heavy rainfall resulting in overland flooding, snow accumulation, fallen powerlines, and in some areas, power outages. Please take action to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you, including livestock,” the warning said.

‘We Asked for Rain’

“We asked for rain and boy did we get it—and way too much,” said Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara in a video update. He also posted a video on social media on June 19, showing that water levels in the area were close to rising above Highway 16. The town declared a state of emergency.

The town office also lost phone lines on June 19, the mayor said in an update on June 20, which he said were not caused by rain.

“And I’m not making this up folks, it was caused by a bear that ran up a pole and took down some lines. So if you think that anything could get weirder in this whole scheme of events, I don’t think we can make up any weirder stories than that,” said Zahara.

The Town of Edson issued a statement on social media on June 20, stating: “This rainfall is not normal. This is considered a major storm event, at a level seen only once every 25 to 50 years. Over the past week, Edson has been hit by more than 135mm of rain.”

Yellowhead County Mayor Wade Williams provided an online video update on June 20 that said while residents about 250 kilometres west of Edmonton had originally prayed for rain to help put out fires, now the community wants the water to stop.

“It has quit raining and there [are] little bits of sunshine … so hopefully the water levels won’t continue to rise much more than they have,” Williams said.

“It’s been a real rodeo here from the fires to the rain and then to the snow up there that took out a power line to one of the hamlets, Cadomin, on the west end.”

The mayor said the fires are still burning. “Just a couple of nights ago, we had a significant amount of rain and two of them fires flared up at night when the wind came up,” he said.

Late on the same day, residents in Lower Robb, an area 250 kilometres west of Edmonton, were told to leave their homes following heavy rainfall and overland flooding. The county declared a state of emergency and reported roads in the county were covered in water.

Snow, Rain, Power Outages

Parks Canada reported that Jasper National Park received 55 centimetres of snow and more than 100 millimetres of rain in some regions, causing the closure of Maligne and Miette Roads. Parks staff were helping visitors on tour buses, hikers, and some boaters who had been stranded by the heavy downpours.

“Parks Canada is working on assessing the safety of roads, including the risk of avalanches or mudslides. We recognize this situation may cause delays and impact visitor travel plans,” said the department.

Some small towns had power outages, such as the Cadomin region, where snow knocked out electric power lines, expecting to keep the power out for several days. Transmission lines were damaged, and south of the area, Highway 40 was closed.

The residents of Peer were told to shelter in place after the rain caused high water levels that washed out a bridge. A notice on Facebook from the county told residents in the hamlet that emergency responders would be assisting residents in leaving the area.

Woodlands County also issued a flood alert for an area along the McLeod River, and warned that rising waters on that river were causing overland flooding near Whitecourt.

Whitecourt, about 100 kilometres northeast of Edson, meanwhile, declared a state of local emergency due to flooding, with rapidly rising water levels triggering road closures, evacuation orders, and threatening homes and buildings.

Water levels on McLeod and Athabasca Rivers are expected to continue to rise for at least another 24 hours or possibly longer.

Major Cities

Edmonton has received more than 125 mm of heavy rain in just six days this month, after two weeks of dry, hot weather, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Some areas recorded between 50 and 104 millimetres of rain from June 18 to June 19 due to a significant low-pressure weather system over the region.

A typical average for the entire month of June in Edmonton is 77 mm.

On June 20, the city of Edmonton issued an announcement warning that continuous rain and rising river waters were creating “dangerous conditions.”

“Due to the continuous rain, the river, as well as shorelines and trails directly near the river, may be unsafe. Edmontonians may expect high water levels and increased current flow in the coming days,” said the city.

The North Saskatchewan River was under a high stream flow advisory as of June 20, having risen to a height of 5.2 metres. City officials were advising that trails may be closed within the next 12-hour period due to rising water levels. City residents were being warned to “exercise extreme caution” around the river running through the city and its tributaries. Mill Creek Ravine trail system had been closed in some areas due to flooded trails.

Alberta Environment said a high streamflow advisory remained in effect for the tributaries of the North Saskatchewan River from Nordegg to Edmonton.

Calgary was also seeing significant rainfall on June 20, with more rain forecast for another 48 hours, a brief three-day reprieve, and then another five days of scattered thunderstorms and rain expected.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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