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‘Sad day’: Tens of thousands evacuated from Fort McMurray due to wildfire
Published Tuesday, May 3, 2016 11:34AM MDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 4, 2016 12:25AM MDT
On Tuesday, the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray escalated greatly, with all residents eventually evacuated, as flames spread into residential areas.
Officials said Tuesday that they were preparing for the wildfire to spread, as hot weather and low humidity was expected – later in the day, officials called the fire conditions “explosive”.
“We’ve had explosive fire conditions on the landscape,” Bernie Schmitte, Forestry Manager said – Schmitte said conditions were brought on by high temperatures, low relative humidity, and an inversion that broke around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“All our efforts to control and contain the fire were challenged by this extreme fire behaviour, efforts were also hampered by smoke conditions, and basically fire behaviour was beyond all control efforts.”
By later Tuesday afternoon, officials told CTV News the wildfire was 'beyond resources' - meaning it was considered too dangerous to put fire crews and aircraft between the fire and Fort McMurray.
Starting at about 2 p.m., and continuing throughout the rest of the afternoon, officials issued an increasing number of evacuation orders for parts of Fort McMurray.
Just before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday – officials confirmed all Fort McMurray residents were under a mandatory evacuation.
Residents of the Gregoire area are advised to evacuate south of Fort McMurray.
For all other residents, officials with the municipality said evacuees should head north of Fort McMurray towards Noralta Lodge – by Tuesday evening, officials said Noralta Lodge was full, followed a short time later by Grey Wolf Lodge. Officials said evacuees would get instructions on where to go once they reached Noralta Lodge.
While residents had experienced traffic delays earlier Tuesday as they tried to evacuate the community, officials said later Tuesday evening that all lanes of Highway 63 starting on the northern edge of the city, at the TaigaNova Crescent, were running northbound.
Meanwhile, officials said later Tuesday that Highway 63 southbound was open, south of Confederation.
In a news conference late Tuesday afternoon, officials said MacDonald Island – the centre originally used a reception centre for evacuees, had been evacuated itself.
In addition, officials confirmed to CTV News that the Fort McMurray hospital was being evacuated Tuesday evening.
Alberta Health Services officials confirmed at about 7 p.m. that a total of 105 patients (73 acute care and 32 continuing care) had been evacuated from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
Evacuated patients were being transported to other health care facilities in Alberta.
At about 5 p.m., it was believed about 29,000 people had been evacuated – at that time it was already the largest evacuation due to fire in the province’s history.
Later Tuesday night, officials said the north and south portions of the city had been evacuated – with 17,000 evacuees heading north, officials were working with industry camps and lodges to find spaces for evacuees to stay.
South of the city, officials said about 8,000 were on their way to Anzac, 9,000 heading to Lac La Biche and 18,000 confirmed to be on their way to Edmonton.
It was believed most evacuees would seek lodging with family or friends.
Later Tuesday, a number of oilsands worksite camps were opened to evacuees, a full list of those camps was released online.
“Everything that can be done, is being done, it is a very dynamic situation, information is changing continuously,” Scott Long with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said.
“Right now we know that structures have burned – we can’t tell you how many, our priority…is to ensure the safety of Albertans and stabilizing the situation.”
The Alberta Emergency Management Operation Center was at Level 4 on Tuesday evening, officials said – the highest possible level.
Late Tuesday, officials outlined what was believed to have been lost in the fire, Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen said homes had been lost in the Dickensfield area, along with about half of the Abasand neighbourhood, Beacon Hill was believed to have been destroyed – and as of about 10 p.m. Tuesday, there was a free-burning fire in the Waterways and Draper areas. It’s believed property had been lost in the Wood Buffalo area.
As for the downtown, Allen said he wasn’t aware of structure fires in the area, although there were some spot fires along Hospital Street, which were put out.
“It’s a sad day for everyone in Fort McMurray, we’ve had a devastating day, and our hearts and prayers go out to people,” Allen said.
The Fort McMurray Airport has said the fire has prompted the cancellation of some flights - officials asked passengers to contact their airline for their flight status.
Officials said Tuesday morning that the fire, located just west of Fort McMurray, had grown to more than 2,600 hectares as of Tuesday morning. The last size reported was about 1,285 on Monday.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, officials said nine air tankers, more than a dozen helicopters and more than one hundred firefighters were on scene working to fight the blaze - and more crews were on the way to help.
Officials said the outlook for Wednesday wasn’t likely to work in favour of firefighters.
“Tomorrow’s weather perspective, we are expecting a cold front from the east to come in and hit mid-afternoon,” Bruce Mayer with Alberta Forestry said. “The winds earlier [Tuesday] were from the southeast, heading northwest, [and] switched over to southwest.
“[Wednesday] when the cold front comes in, middle-late day, winds will be switched from the west heading east, gusting anywhere from 25 to 50 kilometres. Tomorrow is expected to be a more intense burning day than [Tuesday].”