Residents of neighborhoods in the Canadian boomtown of Fort McMurray - considered the gateway to Alberta's oil sands as the Athabasca oil sands are roughly centered around the town - are under mandatory evacuation as a massive wildfire has jumped across Highway 63 and entered the city limits. Homes have begun to burn in Fort McMurray as residents flee for safety from a blaze that’s doubled in size within a day. More than 30,000 people have now been ordered to evacuate Fort McMurray communities.
The fire has already destroyed homes on the outskirts of the municipality. Bernie Schmitte, wildfire manager at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said that the fire made a "major run" during the night and reached the Athabasca River. All Air Canada and WestJet flights to and from Fort McMurray have been cancelled
“My whole life is burning away,” Jenn Tremblett, who has left for Edmonton, told Metronews. “My home is in Gregoire (Fort McMurray neighbourhood) so it may be gone soon. "My family is trying to get out of town.” Tremblett said the community of Beacon Hill is on fire, after a nearby Shell gas station blew up.
Fire officials have extended the evacuation order to 10 communities in the city, including Beacon Hill, Abasand, Waterways, Draper, Saline Creek, Grayling Terrace, downtown, Thickwood, Wood Buffalo and Dickinsfield.
Kristen Mctavish, who lives in the city’s downtown, was on her way 63 kilometres north to Noralta’s Grey Wolf Lodge, where one camp, among others, has been set up to house evacuees.
“I cried,” Mctavish said. “It’s better now because we’re actually moving somewhere, but traffic is really bad.”
Highway 63 going south has remained closed as the blaze has made it impossible to travel in that direction, according to an Alberta emergency alert. Many houses in Beacon Hill and Gregoire have burned down, including the homes of Mctavish’s friends.
“Couple of my friends’ homes have burned down, and a lot of people are going north,” she said. “Buildings and businesses caught on fire. The gas station exploded.”
On Tuesday evening, a forestry spokesperson said officials are pulling out crews as it has become prime burning time, adding tomorrow is supposed to be more intense. Mctavish said she’s a bit worried her home may burn down.
“I live close to the Gregoire and Beacon Hill area,” she said. “I hope it will be under control by then.”
Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. The wildfire threat ranging from very high to extreme.
Fire officials had already warned earlier in the day that rising temperatures and low humidity could help the fire grow.
Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus and Shell have all said there is no impact to their oil production facilities as a result of the wildfire.
Cited by Bloomberg, Premier Rachel Notley told reporters that the fires have not affected oil-sanders operations. It remains to be seen if this will be the case as the fire gets bigger with every passing hour.
Traffic being directed out of town pic.twitter.com/cik8r3WCEk— Briar Stewart (@briarstewart) May 3, 2016
Thick black smoke from the other side now pic.twitter.com/A07nxTel1D— Briar Stewart (@briarstewart) May 3, 2016
Police appear to have blocked off part of hwy63 pic.twitter.com/iCJ4Q0AuTZ— Briar Stewart (@briarstewart) May 3, 2016
You can hearing popping signs like there are explosions. Flames appear to be right along side highway pic.twitter.com/BUHH6OxWId— Briar Stewart (@briarstewart) May 3, 2016