Swan Hills residents received a wildfire advisory at 7:20 PM on May 15 advising them to be prepared for a possible evacuation due to a wildfire burning 24 km northwest of town. While the advisory did not call for an evacuation at that time, it did warn that the forecast indicated worsening weather conditions that could force one. Residents were urged to gather important documents, pets, medications, and enough food, water, and supplies for at least three days.

After a tense evening of preparations and what was likely to be a relatively sleepless night for some, the Swan Hills community got up the next day and did their best to carry on as usual.

The fire in question, designated SWF063, had started northwest of Swan Hills on May 4, but the prevalent weather conditions and wind direction had kept the fire moving to the northwest, away from the town.

The fire rapidly grew to enormous proportions, stretching to force evacuations in the East Prairie Metis Settlement and the Banana Belt (south of High Prairie) while also putting High Prairie on an evacuation alert. The winds were forecast to change direction on the night of May 15 and push the wildfire toward Swan Hills, leading to the advisory that went out that evening.

By midmorning on Tuesday, May 16, parents of students in Swan Hills School received an email message advising them of wildfire evacuation procedures should they become necessary.

The advisory from the night before became a mandatory evacuation order at 1:20PM that afternoon, directing Swan Hills residents to evacuate immediately. Residents were informed that an evacuation center had been set up at the Barrhead Agrena and were encouraged to register there, in person or by phone. The people of Swan Hills packed important documents, keepsakes, and supplies they had gathered, along with family members and pets, and left their homes and businesses behind.

Residents are encouraged to register at the evacuation centre in Barrhead if they have not already done so. Registration helps with communication efforts when the evacuation order is lifted and is an important step in proving your status as an evacuee if you apply for the province’s one-time evacuation financial assistance.

The one-time evacuation payment is available to Albertans who have had to leave their home for 7 days or more due to an evacuation order and  are at least 18 years old (payments are also available for dependants under 18). This payment is meant to help with living expenses related to being displaced (food, accommodations, clothes, etc.). Eligible individuals will receive $1,250 for each adult and $500 for each dependent under 18 years of age. Individuals can apply for this payment online at evacuationpayment.alberta.ca or by calling 310-4455.

As of the evening of May 19, the fire had still not reached Swan Hills.