May 4, 2016 7:12 am
Updated: May 6, 2016 3:23 pm

Fort McMurray wildfire: Shifting weather forces more evacuations

WATCH ABOVE: Ongoing video coverage of Fort McMurray wildfire

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A new article was posted Thursday morning with the latest information on the Fort McMurray wildfire situation. Click here for the latest. 

UPDATE: Wednesday, May 4, 10 P.M. MT: 

Shortly before 10 p.m., the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said shifting weather patterns prompted a mandatory evacuation order of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation.

A fiery scene over Gregoire Lake as flames and smoke from a wildfire hang over Fort McMurray on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

Dean Twardzik/ Global News

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They said buses were being brought in to help and that Mounties were going door-to-door to make sure everyone leaves.

The evacuation is scheduled for 11 p.m with buses departing at midnight.

Displaced Fort McMurray residents had taken refuge at the Anzac Recreation Centre, about 50 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

Watch below: People are now being asked to leave an evacuation centre in Anzac to get to safety. Fletcher Kent reports.

On Tuesday night, officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo were expecting 8,000 displaced residents to seek shelter in Anzac.

Meanwhile, officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo also said they were also evacuating their emergency operations centre (EOC) in Long Lake and heading to Lac La Biche to “rest.” It’s the second time the EOC had to be moved on Wednesday. Earlier, in the afternoon, it was moved to Long Lake from Fort McMurray.

Provincial State of Emergency

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee announced Wednesday her government had declared a provincial state of emergency because of a massive wildfire in Fort McMurray that forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and that continues to wreak havoc on the community.

READ MORE: ‘Like driving through Judgment Day’ – Fort McMurray wildfire evacuee

“Due to the severity and scope of the situation, cabinet has declared a provincial state of emergency,” Larivee said. “A provincial state of emergency will also allow us to access additional resources from outside the province.

“The federal government is aware that Alberta’s displaced families will need financial support in the days and months to come for both emergency response and rebuilding.”

READ MORE: Horrific fatal crash on Alberta’s Highway 881 sparks blaze

In an interview with Global’s Dawna Friesen, Premier Rachel Notley said the declaration allows the province to make “inter-jurisdictional decisions between municipalities” and to order evacuations as necessary.

“Our message to all Albertans is that the government is behind the people of Fort McMurray and that for Albertans who wish to help, the first thing they should do is contact the Red Cross and offer donations, and additional opportunities for people to support the people of Fort McMurray will come forward.”

Watch below: The situation is growing increasingly tense for Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees who are waiting for a sense of what’s to come. On Wednesday, Alberta’s premier got a chance to speak with evacuees and to see the damage caused to their community with her own eyes. Shallima Maharaj has more.

READ MORE: Where to go if you’ve been evacuated

Larivee advised evacuees to save all receipts collected since fleeing their homes in the event some of their costs can be reimbursed by insurance coverage.

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency’s Scott Long also spoke at the press conference and said new reception centres for evacuees had been opened in Drayton Valley and St. Paul and urged all evacuees to register with the Red Cross to help the government track their location and meet their needs.

Watch below: It’s a miracle no one was killed or seriously hurt as a wildfire engulfed parts of Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. All of the residents were evacuated, but hundreds of homes and business were lost. Reid Fiest reports.

Tracking the fire

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo tweeted an update on its wildfire operations at 5:30 p.m. to say a fire that jumped across Highway 63 had not hit Prairie Creek and that firefighters were still holding it back. It also said a fire is currently headed toward the Fort McMurray International Airport and Saprae Creek.

On Wednesday evening, a camera set up at the airport showed a structure on fire. Wood Buffalo officials said it was the Nova Hotel at the old airport terminal which is separated from the new terminal by a runway.

Watch below: Timelapse from a YMM camera begins in the evening of May 3 and ends in the evening of May 4, 2016.

At 7:23 p.m. the municipality said a fire at CanWest Propane (MacAlpine/Highway 63) had been extinguished thanks to “heroic efforts from fire crews” and efforts to save the water treatment plant were successful.  However, Parsons Creek had two structure fires on Blackburn Drive and a new school being built in North Parsons was also lost to fire.

Notley said roughly 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed or damaged by a wildfire that raged through the city Tuesday night. Mayor Melissa Blake called the fire a “monster.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: How Canadians can help

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Notley said evacuees who headed north to stay in camps and lodges may have to be evacuated as well. She said depending on the wind, the fire likely will spread into Fort McMurray’s Thickwood and Timberlea neighbourhoods. The airport could also be threatened.

At 12:30 the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort McMurray was evacuated. The EOC was being moved to Long Lake.

The fire is being kept away from downtown Fort McMurray thanks to the”herculean” efforts of firefighters, according to Alberta Emergency Management’s Scott Long who spoke at a provincial press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Impact of the fire

A boil water advisory was issued for the entire region, including area oilsands camps, just after 11 a.m.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray fire forces temporary closure of Shell oilsands project 

As of 10 a.m. the out-of-control wildfire was between 7,500 and 10,000 hectares in size. Officials said it has resisted all suppression efforts and Wednesday’s weather could cause explosive conditions.

READ MORE: ‘It’s like Armageddon here’ – Fort McMurray resident who stayed in town during fire describes city

Wood Buffalo fire chief Darby Allen became emotional when talking about Tuesday’s mass exodus.

“We successfully evacuated 88,000 people,” he said, his voice breaking.

“No one is hurt … and no one has passed away right now. I really hope that we get to the end of this and we can still say that. We are here, we are strong. And we will keep doing our job.”

“Our priority being preservation of life, ensuring that our critical infrastructure is secure that allows us to bring the equipment to the areas to fight this fire,” said Alberta Forestry spokesperson Bernie Schmitte. He said the next 24 hours would be critical, and asked people to stay away from the city so crews could focus on fighting the fire.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire –  Albertans offering food, shelter to residents fleeing fire

Which neighbourhoods affected?

An update sent out by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo at 12:30 p.m. MT Wednesday listed some of the damage by neighbourhood, although the numbers are expected to climb.

Here’s the summary:

  • Gregoire: Residences not affected
  • Beacon Hill: 70 per cent loss of homes
  • Abasand: 50 per cent loss of homes; 2 homes near hospital lost
  • Waterways: 90 per cent loss of homes
  • Draper: Damage under assessment
  • Saline Creek: Residences not affected
  • Grayling Terrace: 4 homes lost; 6 more damaged
  • Downtown: One house lost
  • Thickwood: One house lost on Signal Rd.
  • Timberlea: 13 trailers lost on Mckinlay Crescent
  • Dickinsfield: Two houses lost
  • Wood Buffalo: Estimate 30+ houses lost

A map showing the scale of devastation a wildfire has had on neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray as of 12:30 p.m. MT on May 4, 2016.

Tonia Huynh/ Global News

(PHOTO CREDIT: Tonia Huynh, Global News)

The above list is an approximate overview with the most detail officials were able to provide. The update said 70 per cent of the homes in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood were lost. The latest census information from Fort McMurray said the neighbourhood has 728 homes, which would mean about 510 homes in that neighbourhood have been destroyed.

WATCH: Most dramatic video of the wildfire in Fort McMurray.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Map of neighbourhoods affected

Firefighting resources

Two-hundred and fifty firefighters are fighting the fire, along with 10 air tankers and 12 helicopters.

WATCH: Pilot catches Fort McMurray fires from the air

Ontario has been asked to provide help and on Friday will be sending 119 people to Alberta: 100 firefighters and 19 supervisory staff.

READ MORE: Ontario sending 100 firefighters to battle Fort McMurray wildfire

Three-hundred RCMP members from throughout Alberta were deployed Wednesday morning to Fort McMurray to assist the local detachment.

READ MORE: Why the Fort McMurray wildfire engulfed the city within hours

The military has been called in to help. The province has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of National Defence, detailing assistance needs and helicopters to be made available for rescue operations. 

WATCH: The military is on standby if they are needed to help get to isolated areas in Fort McMurray or help get to residents in distress. Vassy Kapelos reports.

Evacuees are being housed in Edmonton’s Northlands Expo Centre. The City of Edmonton has deployed an additional 36 firefighters to the Fort McMurray area on Wednesday.

WATCH: On Wednesday officials announced 50 people would be deployed to Fort McMurray. They’re specially trained to handle disasters and as Tracy Nagai reports there’s hundreds more first responders ready and willing to go.

The Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) was asked to deploy Canada Taskforce 2 disaster response team to support the efforts of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Watch below: Cars have been streaming into the evacuation centre in Lac La Biche, as residents of Fort McMurray and surrounding communities fled a raging wildfire. Robin Gill caught up with some of the evacuees to find out how they made it to safety and what they left behind.

Notley said her cabinet has approved $2 million in funding for the Red Cross, and will match donations as well.

Donations can be made at the Red Cross website or by phoning 1-800-418-1111.

READ MORE: Evacuees staying in work camps, homes and temporary shelters around Alberta

The premier called this the largest fire-related evacuation in the province’s history.

The entire city of Fort McMurray was evacuated Tuesday night, including the hospital. Alberta Health Services said in about two hours, 105 patients and clients were moved from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to Edmonton.

Wednesday morning fire officials said everybody escaped town safely.

Roads and highways

South of Fort McMurray, Highway 63 and Highway 881 were open, however opportunities to gas up were few and far between. Gas stations in Fort McMurray ran out of fuel Tuesday night, and stations along the highway reportedly were running low. Alberta Transportation tweeted just before 7 a.m. that staff were escorting a fuel tanker on Highway 63 to assist stranded motorists.

At least 80,000 Fort McMurray residents have been displaced because of the wildfire emergency, after a mandatory evacuation order was issued at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday for the entire northeastern Alberta community.

Officials said Tuesday night that 17,000 had travelled north and efforts are being made to find those evacuees accommodations in industry camps. Most evacuees had headed south: 18,000 were believed to be heading to Edmonton, 9,000 to Lac La Biche and 8,000 to Anzac.

The next 24 hours will be focused on making sure everybody has safely left the evacuation zone, finding lodging for evacuees, tending to medical needs and helping stranded motorists on Highway 63 and Highway 881.

Officials, politicians react

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was on the phone with Premier Rachel Notley, and offered the government’s total support for anything needed in the short term.

“I want to say to the residents of Fort McMurray, Canadians are with you. Our thoughts are with you; our prayers are with you. As prime minister, I want you to know that our government and all Canadians will stand by you and support you now and when it is time to rebuild.”

WATCH: Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale spoke to the media on Wednesday about what the federal government is doing to help residents of Fort McMurray amid the wildfire in the city.

Queen Elizabeth II issued a statement Wednesday, saying she and Prince Philip were “shocked and saddened by the news of the wildfires that are causing such devastation to Fort McMurray.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected, and we send our heartfelt thanks to the firefighters and the other emergency workers,” the statement reads.

Listen below: 630 CHED is providing ongoing live coverage of the state of emergency in Fort McMurray.

 Click here for a full list of Fort McMurray wildfire coverage.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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