Mass Evacuations As Wildfire Engulfs Canadian City

Fact checked

A mandatory evacuation notice was issued for the entire city of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada on Tuesday after a raging wildfire began spreading uncontrollably

The wildfire raged unchecked through the city of Fort McMurray overnight as authorities raced to complete the evacuation of its population of 80,000, fearing that hot, dry winds forecast for Wednesday would further fan the flames.

The Edmonton Journal Reports:

Fuelled by soaring temperatures that hit 32 C and tinder-dry forest, the fire broached the city limits and by 6:20 p.m. a mandatory evacuation order was issued for the entire city.

“Today has been a devastating day. We have had explosive fire conditions on the landscape brought on by extremely high temperatures” and low relative humidity, Bernie Schmitte, wildfire manager at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, said Tuesday night during a news conference.

“The fire is still out of control,” Schmitte said. “We have been challenged on many fronts as the fire came through the community. It has entered the community and it has gone through the community.”

Officials have accounted for about 53,000 people, including 17,000 people north of the city, 8,000 in Anzac, 9,000 in Lac La Biche, and 18,000 in Edmonton. Fort McMurray has population of 83,000. “This is not an exact science,” one official said when asked about the discrepancy.

No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported at this time.

Military help has been requested through the province. That assistance will come from the Army and Royal Canadian Air Force. It will take about two days for the military to respond.

There are about 150 firefighters tackling the blaze. Another 70 to 80 firefighters to arrive Wednesday, including fire crews from Edmonton which are being escorted to Fort McMurray by four marked Edmonton Police Service cruisers.

Travel in the area is tough. Officials said there is no more gasoline fuel in Fort McMurray, Wandering River and Grasslands.

Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen said temperatures are expected to hit 30 C and increased wind will combine for another challenging day Wednesday.

Word came down late Tuesday that Noralta Lodge north of Fort McMurray was full and evacuees were sent further north to other work camps.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Premier Rachel Notley said that “this is bigger than Slave Lake.” The Slave Lake fire in 2011 decimated the town and forced the evacuation of 9,000 people.

Fort McMurray residents are wondering if they will have homes to return to, as the fire that started Sunday quickly overwhelmed firefighters and the city’s resources.

The first evacuation orders Tuesday came at 4:15 p.m., when the municipality ordered the evacuation of Abasand, Beacon Hill, Gregoire, Waterways, Draper, Saline Creek and Grayling Terrace. Residents were told to head to the Anzac Recreation Centre, about a one-hour drive south of Fort McMurray.

As they headed south, those people saw much of their city on fire. The immolation of the Centennial Trailer Park was nearly complete, with the flames stripping all that was flammable off the metal skeletons of mobile homes and vehicles.

Trees 20 metres from Highway 63 were burning, with thick smoke covering the highway. The McMurray Métis office was in flames and looked ready to collapse under the heat.

Wildfire along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada
Wildfire is worsening along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. © CBC News/ Reuters

It was impossible to see into Waterways, which was hidden in yellow and orange smoke, but trees and buildings were burning.

Hundreds of trucks, cars, motorcycles and mobile homes had pulled over, engines choked by smoke or running low on gas. People sat dazed, many in tears.

At the turnoff toward Highway 881 and Anzac, most continued south toward Edmonton. At a gas station outside the Fort McMurray First Nation No. 468, the gravity of the day finally hit those that had stopped for gas or to take a break and call loved ones.