“The people who are evacuated, they’re getting anxious. They’re asking when can they get home.” —Rick Tailfeathers
Update: The Emergency Team has been informed the fire close to the Reserve is currently under control. The mandatory evacuation for Blood Tribe residents in Zone 1 has now been lifted. If you believe your home is unsafe due to the fire or smoke, please return to the reception centre at the Multipurpose Building in Stand Off by 9 PM tonight. The reception centre will not take in any evacuees after this time.
By Shari Narine
BLOOD NATION, Alta.
If the rain comes overnight and the wind continues to blow from the north, people evacuated from their homes in the southern zone of the Blood Reserve could return home as early as tomorrow.
“That’s not official,” said Rick Tailfeathers, communications director with the Blood Nation.
Chief and council made the decision to evacuate the 280 residents in Zone 1 issuing a 72-hour local state of emergency order in the early morning hours of Sept. 12.
“The people who are evacuated, they’re getting anxious. They’re asking when can they get home,” said Tailfeather.
But another 800 people in Zone 3 in the communities of Fish Creek and Lavern are still on notice for possible evacuation.
Air quality remains a major concern in both zones 1 and 3 and residents have been advised to remain indoors with their windows closed.
Residents were forced out of their homes early Tuesday morning as the Kenow fire from Waterton Lakes National Park sparked a grass fire outside the park gates that was fanned by winds and spread to the nearby Blood Reserve.
Evacuation orders were also issued for areas of Cardston County and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. Both municipalities also declared local states of emergency.
Blood Tribe police went knocking door-to-door to alert evacuees at about 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning after chief and council met all night to devise a strategy.
About 100 people were transported to Standoff to the evacuation centre set up in the multi-purpose building, while others sought refuge with family and friends. But some people chose not to leave their homes.
Tailfeathers says the centre can accommodate 200 evacuees.
Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force will be setting up a temporary pet shelter in the Kainai Agriplex front lobby.
“The Blood Tribe is handling the disaster fairly well,” he said.
Support has come from organizations within the community with meals and personal items being provided for the evacuees, as well as mental health support. Red Cross is also on site with volunteers. Offers of hel have been received from the four nearby Hutterite colonies and TransCanada, which partners with the Blood Tribe.
Tailfeathers says they received a call from Indigenous Affairs Minister Richard Feehan.
“This was quite good. They called asking if there was anything that we needed. That was well received,” he said.
No property has been lost and no one injured on the reserve, says Tailfeathers.
And working to make sure that there’s every chance it will stay that way are Blood Tribe firefighters, who have been joined on the southern flank of the reserve by firefighters from Piikani, Tsuut’ina, and Siksika Nations.
The south side is being soaked down to prevent the fire from spreading onto the reserve. The Blood Tribe public works is on standby with water tanks and heavy equipment, such as graders. The ambulance is also on standby in case the firefighters need health support. There are about 60 firefighters on site.
Tailfeathers noted that the fire crews now working on the Blood Reserve may be called to Waterton if they are needed there.
Local firefighters were kept busy on Monday and Tuesday putting out grassfires kindled by farmers. The tribe has issued a cease farming activities order until this crisis is over.
“The Blood Tribe community, the chief and council are all very grateful for the assistance that’s being offered by the surrounding communities and by the government. We appreciate the help and we’ll get through this,” said Tailfeathers.
LISTEN: Dustin McGladrey of CFWE-FM spoke with Rick Tailfeathers this afternoon about the Blood Tribe evacuation and strategic plan going forward.