Fort McMurray fire expected to reach Saskatchewan border, evacuations continue
Published Saturday, May 7, 2016 2:38PM MDT Last Updated Sunday, May 8, 2016 10:30AM MDT
Alberta Emergency Alert has lifted a voluntary evacuation alert Sunday morning for the Clear Prairie area, west of Range Road 100.
- A wildfire exists in Clear Hills north of Highway 64, east of the B.C. border
As of Saturday afternoon, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have asked people in the following locations to be prepared to evacuate on two hours notice:
- Camps located on both sides of Highway 63 between Parsons Creek interchange north up to and including the Ruth Lake Lodge
- Camps located on both sides of Highway 63 between Fort McMurray and Aostra Road
Fort MacKay, located about 55 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, remains under a voluntary evacuation order.
The massive wildfire in the Fort McMurray area continued to burn out of control, with winds and warm weather expected to push the blaze to the Saskatchewan border by the end of Saturday.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Premier Rachel Notley confirmed that as of 11 p.m Friday, the fire had grown to more than 156,000 hectares – a massive stretch of land 2.3 times bigger than Toronto.
Notley said while the inferno continued to burn northeast away from Fort McMurray, officials expect the fire to double in size “in the forested area” throughout the day.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale echoed Notley’s concerns Saturday morning, calling the wildfire “undpredictable and dangerous” as flames continue to feed off the “extremely dry” boreal forest.
“Over the weekend, it looks like the weather in and around Fort McMurray will be sadly conducive to serious burning conditions,”Goodale said in a news conference in Regina.
However, firefighters continued to protect the downtown and homes in Fort McMurray, holding the line for a second straight day.
"The good news is, it continues to move away from the community and oilsands facilities," said Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfires.
So far, about 1,600 homes and other structures have been destroyed in Fort McMurray.
While earlier reports indicated that between 18 and 20 structures in Anzac were destroyed when the fire breached the town late Thursday night, he confirmed Saturday the number sits closer to 12 as crews continue to "secrure the area."
At least six surface mines in the oil-producing region have been closed or reduced productions. On Saturday, Syncrude issued a statement that all operations at it's Mildred Lake site had been shut-down and all workers evacuated as a precaution.
About 25,000 people who fled to oilfield camps north of Fort McMurray will also soon be brought to safety.
“We’ve made good progress,” Notley told reporters on Saturday.
“Our goal is to have everyone evacuated to the south by the end of the day today.”
Since Thursday, over 12,000 people were evacuated by air – with several RCMP-led convoys helping 7,000 people escape in cars south through Fort McMurray on Friday.
Notley reiterated that a mandatory evacuation order for Fort McMurray, first issued on Wednesday, still applies and will continue “for some time to come.”
According the premier, the gas supply in the community had been turned off and the power grid damaged – water is also not drinkable.
“There is a great deal of hazardous material to be cleaned up and many other things to be done before the city is safe for families to go home,” said Notley.
More than 500 firefighters continue to battle the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters, 14 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment.
In addition, more firefighters were expected in the coming days to help relieve crews currently on the ground.
“We need heavy rain. Showers won’t be enough. We are hopeful we’ll get some precipitation in this area. The good news is with this system other parts of the province will see some rain and that will free up more firefighters to assist us,” explained Morrison.
While the cause is not yet known, officials confirmed the blaze was discovered by a firefighter on Sunday, May 1.
“Firefighters were immediately on this fire. […] It started at 4 p.m. and two hours later it was 60 hectares,” he said.
“It goes to show how hot and dry it’s been here with no rain in the area for the last two months, any fire that starts can move very quickly and grow very fast.”
According to provincial officials, fire conditions across the province remain extreme, with 12 new starts on Friday.
A total of 40 wildfires are burning across Alberta – seven are considered out of control.
Alberta Wildfire confirmed a fire in a northern remote area of Slave Lake area is currently about 2,000 hectares in size, with another wildfire of “significant concern” burning near the B.C. border.
Some refusing to leave
RCMP discovered several people who refused to leave Fort McMurray despite the evacuation order and encroaching flames.
Fort McMurray resident Glenn Dobson told CTV News Channel he decided to stay in his home “to protect it” and because he didn’t have the resources or anywhere to go.
Dobson said he used a garden hose to fight off flames near the edge of his property a few days ago.
And despite power being knocked out and fires raging across town, Dobson doesn’t plan to leave.
“I have a freezer full of meat from last hunting season, I’ve got lots of dry goods and lots of water and so be it. We all used to live without power at one point in time, and it’s kind of a nice break from everything,” he said.
According to Dobson, the RCMP is aware of his unusual situation.
“I have been told that as long as I am not a hindrance to the emergency personnel, I am not out and about, that they are not going to bother me,” Dobson said.
RCMP said they also located a family of five with three young children and an elderly man with a dog on Friday. They, along with a few other stragglers, were moved out of town.
RCMP said many of the remaining residents simply didn’t have the means to leave. Officers have since combed through about 30 per cent of the town’s homes.
"The numbers are not great, but they still exist and are out there, and obviously we are concerned about their health with the amount of smoke there is in the community," said RCMP Insp. Kevin Kunetzki.
Mounties say they arrested a looter on Friday after a break-and-enter call in Fort McMurray. RCMP insisted that looting is not becoming a trend.
"Crime is not rampant in the community," Kunetzki said.
Canadian Red Cross
Premier Rachel Notley urged all people displaced by the disaster to register with the Canadian Red Cross by phone at 1-888-350-6070 or online – to date about 34,000 households have done so.
According to the Red Cross, so far about $46 million has been donated to assist evacuees.
With files from the Canadian Press and CTV’s Graham Slaughter