'Out-of-control' wildfire could reach Saskatchewan
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, May 7, 2016 7:27AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 8, 2016 7:28AM EDT
Alberta’s devastating wildfires continued to grow Saturday as powerful winds fanned the flames, and officials say the inferno could soon reach the Saskatchewan border.
The latest estimates released Saturday put the wildfire at 1,560-square kilometres, a massive stretch of land nearly 13 times the size of the City of Vancouver and 2.3 times bigger than Toronto.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the wildfire remains “out of control” as it moves northeast, and it could touch the Saskatchewan border by the end of Saturday. She added that the blaze could double in size by the end of the day. Officials say it is likely to burn for weeks.
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On the positive side, Notley said she expects that 25,000 people who fled to oilfield worker camps north of Fort McMurray will be brought to safety soon.
“Our goal is to have everyone evacuated to the south by the end of the day today,” Notley said.
More than 80,000 people were forced to flee Fort McMurray, often considered the gateway to Canada’s prosperous oilsands region, after a mandatory evacuation was called on Wednesday due to the rapidly growing fire.
An estimated 25,000 residents fled to the oil camps in the north after highways were cut off by fire and smoke. The RCMP and government forces have worked for several days to bring the group south by air and road.
Several RCMP-led convoys have led evacuees in cars south through Fort McMurray, giving residents a drive-by glimpse of the scorched town they once called home.
Photos of Fort McMurray show torched pick-up trucks abandoned in driveways, charred bicycles strewn on the sidewalk and streets lined with houses burned to their foundations.
Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale echoed Notley’s concerns Saturday, calling the wildfire "unpredictable and dangerous" as flames feed off “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 at a news conference in Regina on Saturday morning.
Saturday’s forecast calls for winds gusting up to 40 kilometres per hour as temperatures reach the high-20s around the wildfire, adding to the challenge for more than 800 firefighters fighting the blaze.
"The good news is, it continues to move away from the community and oilsands facilities," said Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfires.
At least six surface mines in the oil-producing region have been closed or reduced productions. On Saturday, Syncrude oil facilities were evacuated and employees were relocated as a precaution.
Reports from earlier in the week estimate that 1,600 homes and other structures have been destroyed in Fort McMurray.
Notley urged residents to stay away from Fort McMurray as the town remains unliveable; she said neighbourhoods are without power, hazardous material is scattered throughout the streets and local water is “undrinkable.”
“Once the immediate fire damage is completed, there will be an enormous amount of work to make the city safe and habitable,” Notley said.
Some refusing to leave
Notley’s comments come after 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 that licked 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 insist that looting is not becoming a trend.
"Crime is not rampant in the community," Kunetzki said.
With files from The Canadian Press