Wildfire expected to double in size due to hot, dry weather conditions
The massive wildfire in the Fort McMurray area continued to grow Friday, although officials said weather conditions were helping direct the fire away from communities.
Officials said Friday that the wildfire had grown to more than 101,000 hectares – but winds were mostly coming from the southwest, pushing the fire into forested areas and largely away from developed areas, such as the communities of Gregoire Lakes, Anzac and Fort McMurray.
However, due to high winds and warm weather, the fire was expected to grow substantially in size over the next day.
“There’s a high potential that this fire could double in size by the end of the day tomorrow,” Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire said.
On Friday, Morrison said there were nearly 500 firefighters working on the blaze – 290 structural firefighters, and 200 wildfire crews, working alongside 11 helicopters, 12 pieces of heavy equipment and sixteen air tankers.
In addition, more firefighters were expected in the coming days to help relieve crews currently on the ground.
Officials confirmed Friday morning that the wildfire in Fort McMurray had continued to grow, and was at more than 101,000 hectares.
Days after they were first evacuated from Fort McMurray, officials started moving the thousands of residents who fled north, to the south.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo announced Friday morning that RCMP would be escorting convoys of evacuees from sites north of Fort McMurray through the townsite along Highway 63.
Officials said the convoys would stay on the highway, with no diversions in the city.
According to Minister Danielle Larivee, evacuations were going smoothly Friday – despite a one hour suspension due to heavy smoke at about 1 p.m. Friday.
As of mid-afternoon Friday, officials said 1,200 vehicles had been moved south safely.
Efforts to move evacuees south started Thursday, officials said - 7,000 of the total 25,000 evacuees who went north were airlifted out to Edmonton and Calgary on Thursday night. Flights were made by Westjet, Canadian North and industry planes.
Notley said it was hoped that of the 15,000 people still in the north, 5,500 people would be airlifted out Friday, and 500 vehicles driven out.
Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake, who herself had been north of Fort McMurray but recently airlifted out, thanked the crews working to battle the growing blaze.
“We are absolutely eternally grateful to the people who are fighting this vicious fire,” Blake said.
“I’m a mayor who is very prepared to face tragedy and loss; I’m not mayor who is prepared to take all this overwhelming support. If you see me in weak moments it’s because I’m absolutely overwhelmed by what we received.”
Officials said between 18 and 20 structures in Anzac had been destroyed when the fire breached the town late Thursday night.
The flames had not reached Gregoire Lakes Estates or the Fort McMurray First Nation, and crews were working to keep the flames from spreading.
Premier Rachel Notley said the provincial government had approved emergency funding for displaced residents, each displaced adult will get $1,250, and each dependent will receive $500 - Notley said that will cost the province about $100 million in total.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the money would be distributed, but officials urged evacuees to register with the Red Cross or at reception centres, the province said details on that direct funding will be released May 11.
The province has also allocated $200 million for emergency costs under the 2016 Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Disaster Recovery Program – money that was already included in the budget to cover the disaster costs.
Canadian Armed Forces working on ground, in the air
The Canadian Armed Forces are working alongside emergency crews in the Fort McMurray area – officials releasing images showing the scene from CH-145 Griffon Helicopters of the damage from the wildfires.
In addition to the four Griffon helicopters currently in Fort McMurray, a Hercules C-130 plane is delivering supplies – it’s capable of landing on isolated roads in the region.
“Some may ask what is the role of ground troops in this, to date there has not been an ask – sufficient capacity exists however we are poised to support as the call comes in,” Brigadier General Wayne Eyre said Friday.
Later Friday afternoon, officials said a Chinook helicopter will be in the air – the first time the aircraft will be deployed for a domestic operation.
Military members are also carrying out a ‘convoy overwatch’, as RCMP move evacuees south. It’s an operation they used in Afghanistan.