May 4, 2016 9:46 pm
Updated: May 17, 2016 11:49 am

Fort McMurray fire: Timeline of events

WATCH ABOVE: Ongoing coverage of the wildfire in Fort McMurray.

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Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from Fort McMurray due to a wildfire that has so far destroyed at least 1,600 homes and buildings. The Alberta government has declared a provincial state of emergency.

Here’s a timeline of events leading to this point.

Sunday May 1


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7 p.m. – A warning goes out to residents of Gregoire to be prepared to evacuate on short notice due to a wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Map of neighbourhoods affected

10:30 p.m.  A local state of emergency is declared in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. An Alberta Emergency Alert is sent advising of a mandatory evacuation order for Centennial Park, south of Airport Road and Gregoire.

WATCH: Fort McMurray wildfire: Video timeline of events

Monday May 2

3:30 a.m. – The wildfires prompt evacuation orders for residents of Prairie Creek and Centennial Trailer Park. Shelter-in-place orders for other areas.

The wildfire burning just outside Fort McMurray more than doubles in size Monday evening, reaching 2,600 hectares and fire crews warn that Tuesday’s weather conditions will pose a great challenge.

Tuesday May 3

11 a.m. – Officials hold a briefing on the wildfire and warn that the situation is set to get worse before it gets better. There is some perception the fire has died down due to low smoke levels, but officials say it’s an illusion due to an inversion holding smoke close to the ground.

WATCH: Fort McMurray wildfire: ‘We’re in for a rough day’: fire chief on false sense of security

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire and the smoke-trapping inversion which made the fire look calm

“We wake up this morning and we don’t see anything. And people think it’s fine and it’s all gone away… Don’t get into a false sense of security,” Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo Darby Allen warned at an 11 a.m. MT briefing.

“We’re in for a rough day. It will wake up and it will come back.”

2 p.m. – The inversion lifts and smoke and flames again flood the sky.

WATCH: Fort McMurray fire intensifies Tuesday afternoon

3 p.m. – The fire quickly approaches then jumps Highway 63, cutting off a vital link out of the city for evacuees.

WATCH: Global National correspondent Reid Fiest reporting live in Fort McMurray as the wildfire quickly escalates 

4 p.m. – Temperatures soar to 32 C and the fire grows quickly. Additional areas are evacuated.

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

5 p.m. – Evacuation centres are packed full; meanwhile approaching fire forces the evacuation of some of the centres.

WATCH: Fort McMurray wildfire forces evacuation of more than 80,000 residents

6 p.m. – A mass evacuation of Fort McMurray is ordered. Highways become parking lots, jammed with vehicles.

Fort McMurray’s Northern Lights Regional Health Centre is forced to evacuate 105 patients, including nine newborns from the neonatal intensive care unit.

Wednesday May 4

10:30 a.m. – As of Wednesday 1,600 structures are said to be destroyed.

Roughly 10,000 people are holed up at oil camps, a further 70,000 or so have taken refuge in surrounding communities and cities such as Lac La Biche, Edmonton and Calgary.

3 p.m. – The province declares a provincial state of emergency.

“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,” premier Rachel Notley said in an interview with Global News.

WATCH: Fort McMurray wildfire: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley discusses state of emergency

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

The evacuation order remains in all of Fort McMurray.

Reception centres have been set up in Lac La Biche at the Bold Centre and in Edmonton at Northlands.

Residents are urged to seek medical attention if they experience breathing problems.

6 p.m. – In a briefing, RM of Wood Buffalo officials said crews battled three fires Wednesday. At one point those fighting the fire almost became trapped by fire, and had to move positions.

6:45 p.m. – RM Wood Buffalo said its biggest concern was a fire that broke out at Canwest Propane retail store. Reports of the fire came in just before 7 p.m., along with reports of two structure fires in the area.

WATCH: Intense video shows Beacon Hill resident fleeing as Fort McMurray wildfire rages

7:20 p.m. – After battling the blaze at the propane shop, RM Wood Buffalo said the fire had been extinguished thanks to the “heroic efforts from fire crews.”

9:50 p.m. – Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation.

“Weather patterns are changing and we have been advised by Alberta Forestry that we need to do a mandatory evacuation,” RM Wood Buffalo said in a statement. “Buses are being assembled; RCMP is going door-to-door; and evacuation is scheduled for 11:00 p.m. Buses will depart at midnight.”

WATCH: Fleeing residents describe ‘never-ending evacuation’ as fire grows

10: p.m. – The Emergency Operations Centre in Long Lake (near Anzac) announced it had to evacuate and move to Lac La Biche, some 245 kilometres further south.

Thursday May 5

1:21 a.m. – All Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates residents were successfully evacuated from the communities.

8 a.m. – In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in the House of Commons the federal government would match will match individual donations made to the Red Cross in support of relief efforts in Fort McMurray.

8:30 a.m. – RM Wood Buffalo provided the first fire update of the morning.

11 a.m. – The Alberta government said the wildfire had grown to 85,000 hectares and the focus right now is getting 25,000 people who evacuated to the north of Fort McMurray back south as quickly as possible.

There are 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers currently battling 49 fires.

4 p.m. – A firefighting plane crashes near Manning, Alta. All on board are said to be in OK condition. Premier Notley later confirms the incident, saying the plane slid off the runway upon landing; there are no fatalities.

The identity of one of the victims of a fiery road crash Wednesday is released: a 16-year-old triplet, and the daughter of a deputy fire chief, from Fort McMurray was one of two people killed while trying to flee the fires Wednesday.

Emily Ryan was the daughter of Cranley Ryan, the deputy fire chief for Saprae Creek in Wood Buffalo.

“She was a vibrant, engaging member of our student body,” principal Kevin Bergen said in a Facebook post.

4:30 p.m.– Alberta issues a province-wide fire ban.

6 p.m. – Officials say the wildfire is moving southeast and remains 85,000 hectares in size.

Around 4,000 people have been airlifted out of the area north of Fort McMurray and were brought to Edmonton or Calgary.

A total of 49 fires are burning in the province, with 18 new fires sparked Thursday alone. Seven fires are considered to be out of control.

RCMP say there have been some issues with stragglers who didn’t leave Tuesday during the mass evacuation order and work is underway to ensure the community is cleared.

“It’s very dangerous right now because it keeps going back and forth and, as it’s spreading out and coming down further, it engulfs you in an area that you can’t get out of, so it’s not a good place to be at this time,” RCMP Sgt. Jack Poitras said.

Notley says it’s too soon to say when people will be able to return home to Fort McMurray, but when it’s safe people will be escorted back to gather belongings and assess their properties.

Officials say the fire is at the community of Anzac’s doorstep, where some Fort McMurray evacuees originally took refuge before it too was evacuated Wednesday night.

Friday May 6

6 a.m. – RCMP begin to escort a massive convoy to move evacuees stranded at oilfield camps north of Fort McMurray. Convoys of 50 vehicles are moving thousands of people through the fire-raved community to the south along Highway 63. Officials hope to move 1,500 vehicles through the city by the end of Friday.

Saturday May 7

6:30 a.m. – The second day of an RCMP convoy bringing evacuees south from shelters at oilfields north of Fort McMurray begins. Rachel Notley says 4,000 people are scheduled to be evacuated on Saturday.

11:30 p.m. – The fire is more than 2,000 square kilometres in size and still growing as it spreads east toward the Saskatchewan boundary.

Syncrude oil producer announced it shutdown operations at its Mildred Lake site due to smoke concerns.

Sunday May 8

10:00 a.m. – Notley says all evacuees who had been staying in work camps north of Fort McMurray had now been moved south of the devastated community.

11:45 a.m. – A small smattering of rain falls in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, though it was not enough to affect the fire.

Afternoon – Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management says the wildfire has now moved into “phase two.” That means as well as actively fighting the fire, more advanced damage assessment will begin.

Notley also says about 250 gas and electrical workers were in Fort McMurray working to restore the grid where power had been lost.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray SPCA spent the weekend rescuing pets—in secret

Monday May 9

Canadian subsidiary of Norwegian giant Statoil ASA confirms that it has closed its Leismer demonstration project.

Officials say the fire had destroyed around 2,400 structures, but 85 per cent of Fort McMurray is still standing.

Watch below: Fire Chief Darby Allen shares stories of heroism as he updated the Fort McMurray wildfire situation Monday afternoon  

Notley, along with members of the media, toured parts of Fort McMurray Monday afternoon, to see firsthand the devastation left behind by a wildfire that continues to burn in the region.

Watch below: We have now had our first close look inside Fort McMurray after the massive wildfire. Fletcher Kent was part of a media tour that saw all that’s been lost, but also, all that remains. 

Tuesday May 10

Shell Canada resumes production — albiet at a reduced rate — at its Albian Sands mining operations after a seven-day closure.

Notley met with more than a dozen oil sands executives and confirms oil sands operations were not damaged by the fire. She said operations at other sites will restart in the coming days.

WATCH: Premier Rachel Notley speaks on when oil sands operations will resume 

11:30 a.m. – The two fires in the Fort McMurray area join to create a wildfire roughly 229,000 hectares in size. It is still 25 kilometres from the Saskatchewan boundary.

9:50 p.m. – Signs of optimism start to spring up as Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen posts a social media message in which he said, “We think we’ve got this thing beat in McMurray,” but says it will still be a couple weeks before people can start returning.

Wednesday May 11

Donations to the Red Cross reach $60 million dollars – not including additional money from the federal and provincial government who promised to match all donations.

Thursday May 12

Alberta announced another location for Fort McMurray fire evacuees to pick up pre-loaded debit cards to meet the high demand after hundreds lined up at three centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Lac La Biche.

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said the second location would be added to Edmonton and that $7 million in assistance was already handed out Wednesday.

“Everywhere you go there’s a lineup, that’s just the way it is. There’s a lot of people displaced,” said Steve Randell, who lost his home in the fire.

WATCH: Wildfire manager says Fort McMurray blaze more than 241,000 hectares in size

Chad Morrison, with Alberta Wildfire, said the fire now burning east of Fort McMurray has grown to roughly 241,000 hectares and crews are still tackling hot spots surrounding the city.

Morrison said there are currently more than 850 firefighters working the blaze, along with 104 helicopters, 26 air tankers and 154 pieces of heavy equipment.

Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo, Darby Allen, who many have called a hero for his leadership while battling the blaze says he is stepping back to let experts into Fort McMurray for the rebuilding phase.

“It’s impossible for me to thank everybody, so I just want to thank each and every person who was here and helped us fight this ring of fire,” Allen told reporters.

“I want to tell my sons that I love them. I want to tell a lady called Maria who’s been married to me for 36 years that I love her very much and I’ll see her soon.”

Friday May 13

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets a first-hand look at the damage left by the fire that forced 80,000 people to leave Fort McMurray.

Trudeau met with first responders and with Premier Rachel Notley in Fort McMurray and in Edmonton.

Trudeau also extended employment insurance benefits to three western economic regions that were left out when changes were first made, including Edmonton.

READ MORE: Feds make EI claims easier, faster for Fort McMurray fire evacuees

The federal government is also putting together a special committee to co-ordinate Fort McMurray aid and reconstruction efforts.

Officials say about 2,400 homes and other structures were destroyed in the fire, and another 530 damaged, but 25,000 were saved.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire likely killed all wildlife in its path

Monday May 16

Several camps north of Fort McMurray, including the Ruth Lake Camp, were told to evacuate. Ruth Lake is about 30 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

6 p.m. – Notely says the fire started to spread north. It is around 15 to 20 kilometres south of major oilsands facilities.

“There has been a somewhat significant change in the fire and its behaviour in and around Fort McMurray,” she said. “In effect, as we indicated this might happen this morning, the fire has begun burning north and at this time, it is flanking to the west of the community of Timberlea.”

Non-essential staff from Suncor and Syncrude are also evacuated.

Watch below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gives an update of the wildfire plaguing northern Alberta on Monday evening.

10 p.m. – Another Alberta Emergency Alert extends the mandatory evacuation notice from Fort McMurray to just south of Fort MacKay.

All workers in work camps and oil sands operations north of Fort McMurray and south of Fort MacKay are told to head south immediately.

READ MORE: Nearly $1B of oilsands production lost due to Fort McMurray, Alta., fire: report

Tuesday May 17

Notley is expected to update the public on the current situation at 11 a.m.

With files from Global News and The Canadian Press. 

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