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Fires force evacuations

Evacuations were ordered in communities across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan on Tuesday due to grass fires from winds that Environment Canada warned could reach up to 100 kilometres an hour.

A freight train caught on fire in southeastern Alberta while a handful of structures burned north of Calgary.

Late in the afternoon, officials ordered a precautionary evacuation for the Saskatchewan town of Leader, which has a population of nearly 900 people.

"We're not sure if it's going to hit here or not," said town councillor Albert Heck. "We really don't know how the fires are doing at this point. It's quite a few miles away yet, but a little bit of change in the wind and we could be in a problem."

He said residents had mostly gone to the neighbouring communities of Kindersley or Swift Current.

"The smoke is mostly going still south of town, so we don't have a whole lot of smoke here yet. So that's a good sign for us, because usually the way the smoke goes is the way the fire is going to go."

Provincial spokeswoman Kathy Young said the Emergency Management and Fire Safety branch was on the scene and co-ordinating the fire response and evacuation, while a rapid response team was dispatched to assist local fire departments.

Meanwhile, residents of the Sharp Hill neighbourhood in Airdrie just on the northern outskirts of Calgary and people near the town of Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass were also told to leave their homes.

As the evening progressed, Rocky View County announced on its Facebook page the fire had been brought under control and crews were looking for hotspots.

"The situation is significantly improved," confirmed RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peter, but he said there had been some structural damage.

"One home has been totally lost. Another home has been partially lost and fairly significantly damaged, and a third has damage to outbuildings."

He said officials were unsure about when evacuees might be allowed to go home.

"They are working on checking the damage to infrastructure right now and then that'll be how they determine what happens next."

The flames and smoke prompted safety officials to close Highway 3 between Coleman and the British Columbia boundary.

Near Strathmore, Alta., Peter said a train caught fire near the Agrium Plant which in turn created a grass fire due to the extreme winds. He said the train did not derail and no injuries were reported.

He said a second fire started near the Siksika First Nation, causing some there to leave their homes.

The hamlet of Hilda about 50 kilometres northeast of Medicine Hat was also told to prepare for possible evacuation.

RCMP shut down Highway 41 in both directions due to poor visibility caused by smoke and people were being warned to avoid the area.



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