Year in Review – May, June/2019

May

A new-ish phenomenon in crime was being noticed around Slave Lake: bicycle thieves. That’s thieves riding bicycles, who may also be stealing bicycles but not only them. RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans was asked about it at a town council meeting in the month of May. He said the procedure is to steal bikes, remove the ID numbers and sell them for money to buy drugs. He also told council that police know who is doing it and have laid charges.

The fire hazard for the area was rated ‘very high’ in mid-May, as reported in the May 15 Lakeside Leader. Little did we know then how hot it was going to get in the next few days. A week later, the hazard was up to ‘extreme’ and authorities were on edge, expecting something to happen.

Something did happen: Slave Lake welcomed evacuees from the High Level area, where a wildfire was threatening the community. The town, with help from the Friendship Centre, the Red Cross (and others), swung into action to find accommodations and to set up and operate a reception centre. Nearly 700 people had been registered by May 21.

Evacuees from the High Level area enjoy a game of volleyball at Hilda Eben Park.

While that was happening, two fires blew up near Hwy. 754 on the way to Wabasca. Another one – probably started deliberately – took off near Devonshire Beach in the provincial park, threatening nearby homes. A big response by air tankers knocked it down before it reached the structures.

Theft from rural properties in the M.D. was getting so bad, said M.D. councillor Robert Esau, his community was “that close to exploding.” Esau was reporting the problem at a council meeting, asking for advice on what to do or where to turn to seek relief. Perceived lack of RCMP response to calls from Flatbush was a sore point.

Slave Lake’s two derelict motels (otherwise knowns as ugly piles of rubble) were causing quite a bit of unhappiness. The town was feeling the pressure, but due to the legalities of the situation, could not just ‘send in the bulldozers,’ as we explained in a front-page story in the May 22 Leader. The owners of the properties have to be given every opportunity to respond to notices to clean up (not to mention to pay their property taxes), before the courts give the municipality the green light to organize the work.

June

Something is happening up north, and it isn’t rain clouds.

Things went from pretty bad to very much worse over the last few days of May and the first few days of June on the wildfire front. The fires northeast of Slave Lake grew hugely, joined up and were dubbed ‘The McMillan Complex.’ It had reached to over 200,000 hectares in size by June 3, when rain offered a glimpse of relief.
High Level evacuees were allowed home by then, just as Wabasca residents had to leave their community. With the wind shifting, Slave Lake looked to be threatened at one point, but another shift brought the flames to within a few kilometres of the western parts of the Bigstone Reserve. Marten Beach was evacuated for a few days as well.
While this was going on, another fire broke out south of Widewater. The response was massive, and it didn’t get into any settled areas. Things went from simply tense to very weird when RCMP announced a body had been found by firefighters at or near the fire site.

There were some smoky days in the area in May and June. An evacuation was expected for Slave Lake but never materialized. However, Wabasca and Marten Beach residents did have to leave their homes.
Mrs. DePledge and Mrs. Fedorus, catching up at the Widewater Sports 60th anniversary get-together.

Dylan Filewich and Jeremy Manning won the second annual Larry Dahlgren Memorial Walleye Tournament, held at the Spruce Point Park Marina in early June. Sixty teams took part, with the winning cheque being $24,500.

Not to be outdone, Doug Shea and Steve Wirstiuk won the Anglers Cup, held June 14 and 15 near Slave Lake. The duo took home $20,000 for their efforts.

Kailey MacKinnon competes at a gymkhana in Smith.

Gasoline prices soared to $1.25 in Slave Lake, sparking accusations of gouging from angry consumers. What had people particularly worked up this time was the expectation that with the repeal of the carbon levy, the price would drop. There was talk of a boycott, which never went anywhere. However, one local station did lower its price by a nickel, and the others soon followed.

A special meeting at town council chambers in June had to do with the surge in thefts in the industrial area in Slave Lake and the prevalence of such criminal activity generally. Owners of businesses were getting organized and demanding action and looking for solutions. Police response was one issue raised at the meeting. Hiring private security people was another.
“There are several options,” said mayor Tyler Warman at the meeting. “They’re all going to cost money.”

The worst of the fires northeast of Slave Lake eased off in the latter part of the month, though were far from being declared under control. Wetter weather helped, but it didn’t stop a new fire from springing up south of Widewater. It prompted evacuation orders for that community as well as Canyon Creek. The evacuation didn’t last long, as suppression efforts quickly got the upper hand. The cause was later determined to have been lightning.

Elsie Stenstrom and friends at the Friendship Centre.

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