Fire in Fort McMurray: Entire city evacuated
Published Tuesday, May 3, 2016 8:56AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 4, 2016 7:27AM EDT
A massive wildfire has destroyed homes in at least six neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, forcing 80,000 people to flee the city in the biggest evacuation caused by a fire in Alberta’s history.
The areas of Centennial trailer park, Beaconhill, Gregoire, Waterways, Abasand and Dickinsfield have all been confirmed as having properties burned by the fire. However, no injuries or casualties have been reported.
At a late night news conference, officials said the hospital in central Fort McMurray hasn’t been damaged and that all patients had been moved out.
Bernie Schmitte, forestry manager for Alberta Foresty and Agriculture, says there are 150 firefighters battling the blaze and that reinforcements from across the country have been requested.
However, Schmitte refuted the idea that the worst of the fire was over.
"No, the worst of the fire is not over," he said. "We’re still faced with very high temperatures (today), low relative humidities and some strong winds."
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Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo fire chief Darby Allen echoed his comments.
"From an internal, through the city point of view, I think we are going to face similar situations that we faced today. We've got high temperatures, we still may have residual fire from yesterday so we will, from some extent, still be in a fire extinguisher mode."
However, officials say no one has suffered any serious injuries and there are no reports of deaths.
The city has requested help from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Royal Air Force, however their assistance isn’t expected for at least two days.
"Our focus is completely and entirely right now on ensuring the safety of people and getting them out of the city," said Notley during a press conference.
They are currently looking for as many trained firefighters as possible to come in to help fight the wildfire and are using all of the mechanical resources that are safe to use, including nine air tankers and a dozen helicopters.
Firefighters from the Edmonton Fire Department will be joining Fort McMurray firefighters Wednesday morning. Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block said that they are giving as many personnel as they can while keeping their own firestations staffed, "Our 18 personnel in the four units that we're sending should help."
"If you just walk outside, you feel it (ash) falling on you. You see it floating in the air," said resident Mark Durocher. "I can take a broom and brush it off my deck."
Fire officials warned residents early Tuesday morning that rising temperatures and low humidity would help the fire grow, making the wildfire threat range from very high to extreme.
"The south is blocked off, we’re being told to go north," Fort McMurray resident Tim Perteet told CTV News. "People on the streets here are pretty scared, and they don’t know whether to go or to stay."
Crews have been cutting down trees that surround the wildfire to stop the spread. According to Bernie Schmitte, an Alberta wildfire manager, the changing wind conditions are still a concern as many trees growing in the area are spruce and pine, which tend to burn fast and hot.
"It’s just one big huge cloud, it’s all you can see but if you look to the North it’s just clear sky," said Perteet.
However, according to CTV News reporter Breanna Karstens-Smith, the wind is now blowing north, pushing the fire in the same direction that people are going.
At a morning news conference Allen said that residents should go about their typical daily lives but urged them to also be on guard. According to Darby, residents went to sleep Monday night with the fire raging outside of their windows only to wake up Tuesday morning to clear blue skies.
"It will wake up and it will come back," Allen said. "And that will be happening for the next few days, at least."
There are currently no wildfires burning to the north of Fort McMurray but there are some burning to the south.
A cold front is expected to move into the city on Wednesday however, it supposed to bring winds that will change the direction of the fire to northwest. According to fire officials, tomorrow is expected to be a more intense burning day.
According to Notley, there is so far only room for about 6,000 Fort McMurray residents at camps north of city. MacDonald Island Park which was being used as a place for residents to go has now also been evacuated.
Notley is planning on going up to Fort McMurray tomorrow, subject to the situation.
With files from CTV Edmonton and The Canadian Press