'Extreme fire behaviour' forces thousands from Fort McMurray camps
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, May 16, 2016 7:26PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 17, 2016 12:38AM EDT
The mandatory evacuation order in the Fort McMurray area has been expanded to include work camps and oil facilities north of the city, affecting about 8,000 people.
As of Monday night, the mandatory evacuation order first issued two weeks ago now includes "all camps and production refineries north of Fort McMurray and just south of Fort MacKay including Aostra Road are to evacuate immediately."
The expanded evacuation order includes both the Syncrude Canada and Suncor Canada facilities just north of Fort McMurray.
Alberta Emergency Management’s Scott Long said Monday evening that about 4,000 workers at larger Syncrude Canada and Suncor Canada mines north of those camps had been asked to leave voluntarily.
"The urgency that we’re looking at is in regards to the oil and gas infrastructure," Long said.
"I think we’re fairly confident, fingers crossed, knock on wood, when it comes to Fort McMurray," he said, citing a "buffer" provided by decimated forest that had already burned in recent weeks.
The fire is currently between 15 and 20 kilometres from the larger Syncrude and Suncor facilities, according to Wildfire Information Officer Chad Morrison.
Justin Bourke was among the oil workers who were forced to flee a work camp north of Fort McMurray on Monday. He had just worked an overnight shift and was woken up by loud banging on his door.
"We all just had to pack our bags and there was a slew of buses waiting out front for everybody," Bourke told CTV News Channel Monday evening.
Bourke said that once he got outside, the scale of the wildfire was apparent.
"The sun was blocked out, smoke everywhere really thick and heavy, it was like mayhem. And then people were lost and not knowing what to do exactly at the moment," he said.
Bourke said the workers were ushered on buses and brought to another camp in Fort Hills, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. But it wasn’t clear Monday evening if there was space for the workers to sleep.
"Now we’re actually sitting on a bus, sitting outside Fort Hills," Bourke said. "Right now everything is kind of up in the air."
He added that workers have been calling family to update them on the situation as the rapidly moving fire expands.
"It’s scary thinking about how close it can be," he said.
Morrison said the winds are "in the worst spot right now."
"When you have this type of extreme fire behaviour, it doesn’t matter what tankers you put in front of it, or how many helicopters, mother nature is going to continue to move that fire forward," he said.
Earlier on Monday, Notley had said she hoped to provide a timeline by the end of the week on when Fort McMurray’s more than 80,000 residents can return home.
She said air quality currently far exceeds acceptable levels. As a result, "the re-entry of additional response personnel has been delayed, as has the (abandoned) vehicle retrieval efforts."
Notley said work is progressing in some ways faster than expected. Electricity has been nearlycompletely restored and gas is back on in about half of the city. The airport has been deemed ready to resume commercial traffic, she said.
Notley reminded Albertans that a fire ban is in place across the province and that off-road recreational vehicle use is banned.
More than 1,900 firefighters are working across the province, along with 161 helicopters, 29 air tankers and 377 pieces of heavy equipment.
With files from Meredith MacLeod and Graham Slaughter