Fort McMurray wildfire reaches 200,000 hectares in size, expected to continue to grow
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story will be updated throughout Saturday with the latest information.
The Fort McMurray wildfire covered more than 200,000 hectares Sunday and the province anticipated it will continue to grow.
It’s expected the fire will burn to the northeast Saturday, reaching the edge of the Suncor oilsands site. Fire officials said it will likely connect with a smaller fire burning to the northeast.
“They (the fires) may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Saturday.
“We could see that this fire be up over 250,000, potentially 300,000 hectares by end of day,” Chad Morrison, senior manager of Wildfire Prevention with the Alberta government, said Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday night, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen posted a message to residents addressing their frustrations regarding information about their homes and properties following the wildfire.
“We’re working really hard on that,” Darby said. “It’s a process. What’s damaged, what’s left. Is it a garage only? Is it a house? We really will get that to you as soon as we possibly can. We care about all of you.”
Watch below: Premier Rachel Notley, wildfire officials update the Fort McMurray wildfire situation Saturday
Fort MacKay was put under a voluntary evacuation order Saturday. Notley said 60 vulnerable residents had already been moved and roughly 450 people remained in the community.
“We are working with Shell and the Red Cross to evacuate them in the event it becomes necessary,” Notley said.
At 1:50 p.m. MT, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued an evacuation preparedness alert for camps located on both sides of Highway 63 between Fort McMurray and AOSTRA road.
At 3:20 p.m. MT, an evacuation preparedness alert was issued for camps on both sides of Highway 63 between the Parsons Creek interchange north up to and including Ruth Lake Lodge.
If you live or work in these areas, you’re asked to be prepared to evacuate with two hours’ notice.
The Noralta Lodge, where first responders are based, were put on a two-hour evacuation notice Saturday afternoon. The province said a “safe, controlled” evacuation would be done either south or north of Fort McMurray if needed.
More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters, 14 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment, the province said Saturday.
About 30 more firefighters were set to arrive Saturday night from communities across Alberta.
Morrison said it’s likely the wildfire will burn for weeks or months.
Cooler temperatures are on the way to the region and there’s a chance for showers Sunday, but the region will need significant rain to stop the fire.
Watch below: Aerial footage shows the devastation in Fort McMurray’s Abasand and Beacon Hill neighbourhoods
Convoys heading south from work camps north of Fort McMurray
For the second day in a row, evacuees who had been seeking refuge at work camps north of Fort McMurray began making their way south through the community to safety.
It was hoped everyone who was left up north would be able to make their way through the fire ravaged community Saturday, Notley said. The Alberta RCMP is leading 50 vehicles at a time through Fort McMurray, as people continue on to accommodations in Calgary and Edmonton.
Those convoys were set to leave when it was safe to do so.
“It changes moment to moment,” Insp. Kevin Kunetzki said, adding the smoke to the north of the city is very heavy. “Where possible, we want to help people, we want to get them to other locations where there’s going to be better provisions.”
On Friday, 2,500 cars carrying 7,500 people made their way safely through Fort McMurray. In total, more than 20,000 displaced residents had been living in oilsands work camps since Tuesday after the blaze cut the main road through Fort McMurray and sent residents fleeing either north or south.
RCMP are also escorting trucks from the south to the north to bring in supplies. No vehicles were permitted to stop in Fort McMurray during the convoy.
RCMP going door to door to ensure everyone is out of Fort McMurray
Between 300 and 350 police were inside Fort McMurray Saturday, going door to door to make sure people have evacuated the community. Officers had gone through about 30 per cent of the community by Saturday morning. RCMP are not forcing their way into homes unless they hear a call for help.
A family of five and one other person were found Friday and taken to safety.
“It is very dangerous in the community,” Kunetzki said. “We are concerned about their health with the amount of smoke that’s in the community.”
Watch below: RCMP going door to door to make sure everyone is out of Fort McMurray
Kunetzki said there have been minor crime issues in Fort McMurray. One person was arrested Friday for a property crime, but Kunetzki wanted to make it clear that there are no major issues with looting.
“This is not a situation where crime is rampant or anything,” he stressed. “We are definitely not seeing people running around with televisions and taking them out of the community.”
Kunetzki said visibility in some areas was “very poor and we’re expecting it to get worse today.” He said visibility was about 30 feet Saturday morning.
Syncrude shutdown operations at its Mildred Lake site Saturday morning after smoke moved into the area. The company tweeted it made the decision to ensure the safety of workers and the integrity of its operations.
Timeline for return
As of Saturday morning, there was still no timeline for when residents would be able to return to Fort McMurray. Notley said the community was still very dangerous and only first responders were allowed in Fort McMurray.
Notley said the gas has been turned off and the power grid has been damaged. Notley said some areas of Fort McMurray do not have power and the water is not drinkable.
“A mandatory evacuation order still applies in the city and it will be for some time to come,” she said. “The return home won’t be in the coming days. Once the immediate fire damage is completed there will be an enormous amount of work to do to make the city safe and habitable.”
Watch below: Still no timeline on when Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees might be allowed to return home. The government is now putting plans in place to support displaced residents for an extended period.
Financial assistance for Fort McMurray evacuees
On Friday, the Alberta government approved emergency financing for the approximately 80,000 people evacuated from Fort McMurray this week. Each adult will receive $1,250 and each dependent will get $500. The funds will be made available in the coming days and Notley said Friday it will cost the province about $100 million.
Details on when the assistance will be available and how to get access to it will be released by the government on Wednesday, May 11. When the details are released they will available online and/or through 780-310-4455.
The government has also asked that evacuees not in dire need of the money to not claim the cards right away so they can be expedited to those that need them most.
All evacuees should contact the Red Cross at 1-888-350-6070 or through its website to register their location. It’s important to register to ensure officials know how to reach you and to verify you got out safely.
Evacuees are asked to confirm their registration with the Red Cross by 11:59 p.m. Monday.
Notley said as of Saturday morning, 32,000 households had registered.
Global News has reporters on the ground of extensive, ongoing coverage. Follow our live blog below.
With files from The Canadian Press.
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