Monday, November 28, 2011

High winds and grass fires create chaos in southern Alberta

Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

Smoke from grass fires billows into west Lethbridge neighbourhood yesterday
Steven Brown (screencap from vid)

Extreme winds have been creating chaos in southern Alberta for most of the past week. Sunday, November 27 was no exception. Pincher Creek was again affected, with the winds here dying down in the early afternoon.

Elsewhere, the winds continued into late evening. Alberta's Emergency Alert System was activated, and radio warnings were broadcasted asking people to stay away from windows.

Lethbridge area

Homes on the western outskirts of Lethbridge were threatened by grassfires. Smoke filled the skies, particularly in the west end of Lethbridge and in the communities west of the city. Grass fires were reported in the Raymond area, and along the Milk River Ridge near New Dayton and Warner, and on the Blood Reserve southwest of the city where the fire was reported to have started before jumping the river.

The province's Emergency Management Agency issued an evacuation order on Sunday evening to residents who live in Lethbridge County and directed them to a reception centre at the Fritz Sick Centre. Residents of Indian Battle Heights and West Highlands were also told to be prepared to leave their homes. Residents were asked to keep their cellphone use to a minimum.

Water tankers replenish in west Lethbridge
C. Davis photo

This eyewitness could see smoke and light from the fire south of Lethbridge as far west as Brocket, even after sundown.
Police blocking Highway 3 westbound, west Lethbridge
C. Davis photo

Many access routes to the south and west areas of Lethbridge and surrounding communities were blocked by police, including Highway 3 westbound for a time. At least one power outage was reported, due to a power pole broken by the winds. In the city's north industrial district wind blew the roof off of an industrial building, causing a fire and limited access to the area.

Video: Smoke from grassfires as seen from west Lethbridge. Steven William Brown video.

Highway 2

RCMP urged drivers to avoid travelling on Highway 2 between Fort Macleod and Nanton. The warning extended to the areas surrounding Fort Macleod and Claresholm.

Kaz's Auto Service in Claresholm was destroyed by high winds Sunday
Heatherlynne Brough photo

Wind gusts of up to 144 km/h in were reported in the Claresholm area., with one business, Kaz's Auto Service, completely demolished. An eyewitness reports the roof blown off at the Top Hand Western Shop.

Rearview of Kaz's Auto Service in Claresholm after winds destroyed it
Heatherlynne Brough photo

Some High River residents were forced to evacuate an apartment building after major damage to the building's firewall.

North of Calgary high winds and snow created more chaos on Highway 2, with semi-trucks in the ditches, fences blown down, and debris from broken signs littering the highway.


The Calgary Fire Department recorded wind gusts of up to 149 kilometres per hour at the top of city highrises, with every quadrant of the city affected.
In response to the high winds and resulting damage across the city, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) activated the Municipal Emergency Plan at 1:05 pm.

Downtown Calgary was closed to all vehicular traffic for most of the day, including public transportation vehicles, and at the time of this report it was uncertain if public transportation would resume by Monday morning. Highrise windows were blown out in the downtown core, and trees were toppled all over the city. Blackouts occurred, primarily due to tree damage to power lines, throughout Sunday. Calgary police advised residents to stay in their homes and put as many walls between themselves and windows as possible. People were also advised to watch out for flying debris.

According to a City of Calgary Newsroom release pedestrian access to and from the downtown core was restored late Sunday evening. However, access remains restricted in several areas until further notice. There is no estimate on when other vehicle traffic will be allowed into the downtown core. Calgary commuters are being advised to make alternate arrangements for travel to and from the downtown core for the Monday morning rush hour.

There were no reported injuries to Calgary citizens. One firefighter was taken to hospital due to an injury from glass.

Turner Valley and Black Diamond were also subject to a wind warning.

Environment Canada predicts a mainly sunny day for the Pincher Creek area on Monday, November 28, with mild winds in the morning increasing to 60 km/hr gusting to 80 km/hr in the afternoon.

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