Fort McMurray wildfire grows to 85,000 hectares
Weather conditions in northern Alberta contributed to more evacuations in the Fort McMurray area Wednesday night, and the fire burning in the area continued to grow.
In an update Thursday evening, officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued an update on the wildfire:
Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo announced the mandatory evacuation had been expanded to include Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation.
The expansion came after weather patterns changed, and Alberta Forestry said more people needed to be evacuated.
On Thursday morning, municipal officials outlined the latest update on the extent of damage done by the fire.
At about 8:30 a.m., officials said North Abasand was on fire, and was threatening the radio/cell tower in the area, while there was significant damage to the Prospect area, although firefighters had managed to prevent the fire from crossing Confederation Way.
Meanwhile, serious damage was done to a number of structures on Old Airport Road – but the new airport terminal was not damaged.
There was no significant damage to Fire Hall 5, officials said. There was no reported damage in the Downtown and Thickwood areas.
However, the status of two communities that were evacuated late Wednesday: Saprae Creek and Anzac, was not known.
Officials said Thursday that more than 80,000 people had been evacuated from the area since Tuesday.
“These are huge numbers to be dealing with,” Notley said. “It’s a challenge to get an exact tally of how many people have been evacuated and where they have gone.
“Many people have arranged their own accommodations with families and friends and others are staying at hotels or camping.”
Notley urged anyone who had been displaced by the fire to register with the Red Cross, if they hadn’t already. Evacuees can register at an evacuation location, or through the Red Cross by calling 1-888-350-6070. More details can be found online.
Officials said about 25,000 people were evacuated north of Fort McMurray, and officials were working to get those people out. Officials said they’re trying to evacuate as many people as possible by air, and working to open the highway to get fuel north, and help get evacuees south as soon as possible.
“To those who have been displaced from their homes, we want you to know that we have your back, you will be supported,” Notley said.
The province said the fire had grown to about 85,000 hectares in size later Thursday morning – officials admitted it was not the largest wildfire to burn in the area – one in 2011 reached about 600,000 hectares, so crews had faced massive fires in the past.
“We have dealt with them [before], the key issue is ensuring that we protect infrastructure and the community and that is the work that’s going on with the firefighters right now, and they will continue to do that work,” Notley said.
Alberta Wildfire outlined how the wildfire grew so quickly on Wednesday night – saying winds kicked up, with gusts of up to 70 kilometres an hour.
The winds blew south – while tankers and provincial staff worked with municipal fire department to protect critical infrastructure in northwest Fort McMurray.
Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire described the fire’s behaviour Wednesday night.
“The extreme fire behaviour that happened through late in the day and overnight…it had begun to create its own weather, even creating its own high winds…and even lightning was coming from the smoke clouds it had created,” Morrison said.
The flames burned past the airport and tanker base and warehousing facilities, but Morrison said structures remained intact.
Meanwhile, 100 firefighters were on the ground, along with ten helicopters and at least 16 air tankers, if not more, all deployed on Thursday.
Colleagues from other parts of the country were also on their way, Morrison said four air tankers were headed in from Quebec, while another 100 firefighters were coming in from Ontario.
It’s expected the fire will continue to be a challenge for crews on the ground and in the air.
“We’re expecting the fire to continue to challenge firefighters, even though the temperature is going to be lower around 16 degrees [Celsius], we’re still going to have very low humidity and the conditions are still tinder dry, we are going to have very strong winds from the northwest, up to 40 kilometres an hour,” Morrison said.
Officials believe the fire will continue to grow in the southeast – but it’s believed the winds will blow away from the community.
The premier said Thursday morning that 18 new wildfires had started in the forest protection area on Wednesday and as of 8 a.m. Thursday, there were a total of 49 wildfires burning in Alberta: 7 were considered out of control, 12 were being held, 23 were under control and seven had been turned over to local firefighters.
The province said more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers were working on fighting fires in Alberta. Officials said Canada Task Force 2 had been called in to help with firefighting efforts.
Notley warned Albertans to be cautious, as the wildfire risk is extremely high in the province.
“I want to underline to all Albertans that fire conditions remain extreme and that several communities are battling wildfires, it’s not just Fort McMurray, although without question this is by far the largest and most severely affected community,” Notley said. “We’re asking all Albertans to be extremely careful and to do everything that they can to reduce all fire hazards.”
On Thursday, Alberta Health Services revised their boil water advisory that had been issued the day before – saying residents that pull water from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Water Treatment Plant, including work camps, Anzac, Conklin, Gregoire Lake Provincial Park and Janvier.
The advisory did not include Fort McKay, or camps that get water from EPCOR or other providers.
Those affected by the advisory said water should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute before it’s consumed in anyway such as drinking, brushing teeth, cleaning raw foods, preparing infant formula or juice, or making ice.
On Wednesday, the provincial government issued a provincial state of emergency – a move that will help officials better organize resources and handle evacuees.
“This will help us provide the support that is needed for Albertans who have had to cross municipal boundaries to escape the wildfires, it also means we can coordinate resources needed to fight the fire,” Notley said.
The Alberta government approved $2 million to match Red Cross donations. On Thursday, the federal government announced it will also match Red Cross donations – donations can be made online, or a $5 donation can be made by texting REDCROSS to 30333.