‘Ocean of fire’ destroys 2,400 structures but 85% of Fort McMurray still stands

WATCH ABOVE: Video of the media tour through Fort McMurray Monday, May 9, 2016.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story will be updated throughout Monday with the latest information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story previously stated Fort McMurray evacuees who registered with the Canadian Red Cross must confirm their registration by 11:59 p.m. Monday in order for it to be validated. The Canadian Red Cross has since contacted Global News and said that while there is a deadline and evacuees are encouraged to meet it, there is no consequence for missing it.

 Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen said 85 per cent of Fort McMurray is still intact, despite a devastating wildfire that ravaged several neighbourhoods.

Allen said people may be under the impression that most of the city has been levelled, but that’s just not the case.

He said between 40 and 50 per cent of Fort McMurray could have been destroyed if firefighters hadn’t been able to hold back the flames at key points.

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 Gallery: Video, pictures of Fort McMurray wildfire damage media tour

“You might be seeing images today of the area you live and indeed you might be seeing images of where your home was,” he said. “This was a horrible fire. Whatever we tried to do, it went a different way… We did our very best.

“There were hundreds of people, emergency services staff that gave their all. I do truly believe we couldn’t have done any more. We did our best. The good news is… There are many, many images of areas untouched.”

“Fort McMurray is still alive. We’re ready for the future and when we get you back we can build a future together.”

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

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Allen, who has been referred to as a hero by many over the past week, said he doesn’t want this situation to be about him and the “h” word.

“I would state quite clearly this fire is nothing about me, this is about the hundreds and hundreds of people who came here and helped us and supported us. Those people that lived here that supported us did incredible work,” he said.

“I don’t want this to be about that ‘h’ word and Darby Allen. I want us to recognize the true heroes within our community and those people who came to see us.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray fire: The fire chief hailed a ‘hero’ for battling the raging blaze

Allen shared a few stories of the type of heroism he was talking about, including one member of the Fort McMurray Fire Department who came upon his own home while battling the blaze.

“They lost his home. He didn’t drop his nozzle. He moved to his neighbour’s house and continued to fight that fire. And he fought that fire for a further 22 hours before he just couldn’t stand anymore.”

Premier Rachel Notley updates the Fort McMurray wildfire situation

Premier Rachel Notley and members of the media had the chance to tour parts of Fort McMurray Monday afternoon, to see firsthand the devastation left behind by a wildfire that continues to burn in the region.

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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.

Click to play video: 'A look inside Fort McMurray'
A look inside Fort McMurray

Scroll down to follow our live blog with photos and information from our reporters in Fort McMurray.

As of Monday afternoon, Notley said the fire was 204,000 hectares in size. She said 2,400 buildings were lost in the devastation caused when an “ocean of fire” surrounded Fort McMurray.

Notley said she was struck by the power of the devastation, but also by its proximity to neighbourhoods that were untouched.

“It reinforces how much was achieved… by the heroic firefighters who managed to stop a fire that on one hand was capable of levelling blocks and blocks of houses and then suddenly stopping right next to houses which remain untouched and habitable.”

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Notley expressed her gratitude to the first responders who have been working countless hours to help save much of the community.

“The fast action and the hard work and the dedication and the smarts of these first responders has appeared to save 80 per cent (of Fort McMurray).”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Meet the man behind the Wood Buffalo Twitter account

Notley urged residents to stay away from their homes, as it is not safe to return.

“There are smoldering hot spots everywhere, active fire suppression, hazardous materials, broken power lines. Basic services like gas, water, waste disposal, health care and much more needs to be re-established.”

She said a schedule for re-entry should be available within two weeks, but she reassured residents the government will be there to support them.

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“All of Alberta will have your back until this work has been completed,” she said. “It is going to be made safe. It is a home you will return to.”

Watch below: Premier Rachel Notley discusses the wildfire status Monday afternoon

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Media takes a tour of Fort McMurray

During the tour, the bus passed by the Centennial Trailer Park on the way into Fort McMurray. While a few trailers were left standing, the majority of the park was destroyed.

The first stop on the tour was the Beacon Hill neighbourhood, an area of Fort McMurray the province previously said was about 70 per cent destroyed by the wildfire.

“This was a beast. It was an animal,” Allen said of the fire as the bus left the Beacon Hill neighbourhood.

Watch below: A look at the devastation in Beacon Hill 

Below: Photo gallery of the destruction in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood

The bus tour then drove through the downtown. Fire Hall 1 was not damaged. Sprinklers were used to keep the building from burning down, Fire Chief Darby Allen said as he led the tour.

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Watch below: The rebuild after a devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray will be a major operation. But it could have been much worse. Twenty-five thousand buildings were saved. Tom Vernon has more on what those homeowners should expect.

Click to play video: 'What Fort McMurray homeowners will face upon re-entry after wildfire'
What Fort McMurray homeowners will face upon re-entry after wildfire

Heading down King Street and into downtown, the area was not affected by the wildfire; homes, gas stations and hotels in the area were still standing. The hospital, which was evacuated in just two hours, was still standing. Darby said a great deal of effort went into keeping the fire away from the facility.

Watch below: Raw video shows some homes not destroyed by Fort McMurray wildfire between Beacon Hill and downtown

Click to play video: 'Raw video: some homes not destroyed by Fort McMurray wildfire'
Raw video: some homes not destroyed by Fort McMurray wildfire

Below: Photo gallery of homes and buildings untouched by the fire between Beacon Hill and downtown  

The next stop on the tour was the Abasand neighbourhood, an area the province said suffered about 50 per cent destruction.

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WATCH: It was a tough day for some Fort McMurray residents, as they got a visual confirmation about what’s been wiped out. Sarah Offin reports.
Click to play video: 'Fort McMurray residents get first visuals of city'
Fort McMurray residents get first visuals of city

In some parts of the neighbourhood, entire apartment buildings were levelled, but across the street areas remained unscathed. Ecole Boreal was one school that remained untouched.

Watch below: A closer look at the fire damage in Abasand 

Below: Photos of the damage in the Abasand neighbourhood 


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Emergency management officials will start the process of examining the damage from the blaze as well as check on infrastructure like natural gas lines and the power grid.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire response now in ‘Phase 2’: officials

It has almost been a week since a wildfire, fuelled by strong winds, overwhelmed crews last Tuesday afternoon, cutting the main road through Fort McMurray and sending its 80,000 inhabitants fleeing north and south.

Watch below: The helicopters can drop 2,000 gallons of water per hour and are using local river water to suppress the wildfire. Mike Drolet reports.

Click to play video: 'Fort McMurray firefighters using helicopters to suppress wildfire'
Fort McMurray firefighters using helicopters to suppress wildfire

The City of Edmonton has welcomed thousands of people fleeing the flames. A total of 14,750 people have attended the Northlands evacuation centre since it opened last week. As of Monday morning, about 600 were staying in the group lodging provided at the Expo Centre.

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About 40 to 50 evacuees who have been staying at Northlands have started to experience symptoms consistent with viral gastroenteritis, Alberta Health Services said Monday morning. AHS said a breakout of the viral stomach bug “is not unexpected,” given the large number of people who are living at the site. People experiencing symptoms are being housed in a separate area in order to provide them with medical care and help stop the spread of the illness to others.

READ MORE: Viral stomach bug breaks out among Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees at Northlands reception centre

Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said on Sunday the provincial response to the disastrous Fort McMurray wildfire has now moved into phase two.

“Now that we’re going into phase two, which is stabilization of the situation — we’re going to start getting some folks on the ground that can start having a look at those damage assessments and getting a better feel for it,” said Long.

READ MORE: Where Fort McMurray fire evacuees can get help and information

Notley also said on Sunday about 250 gas and electrical workers from ATCO were currently in Fort McMurray working to restore the grid where power had been lost.

A provincial state of emergency remained in effect in the Fort McMurray.

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Live updates of Fort McMurray wildfire

Watch below: About 100 families forced out by the Fort McMurray wildfire found refuge on Highway 63 at the Mariana Lake work camp. As Kendra Slugoski reports, repair crews are now moving in.

Click to play video: 'Evacuees find refuge on Highway 63'
Evacuees find refuge on Highway 63

Info sessions for Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees

About 700 firefighters, several choppers, 27 air tankers and 46 pieces of heavy equipment are being used to battle the wildfire.

The province has scheduled several telephone town halls, the first of which takes place Monday night, to address outstanding questions that many displaced Fort McMurray residents still have.

The question and answer sessions will allow evacuees to speak directly with Premier Rachel Notley and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee.

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The sessions are scheduled to take place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The government will call phone numbers registered with the Red Cross but evacuees who don’t want to participate can opt out by pressing 9 and won’t be called again.

Evacuees can also listen to the sessions online and audio will be posted following the events.

Global News has reporters on the ground of extensive, ongoing coverage. Follow our live stream above and get up to the minute social media coverage in our live blog below.

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

With files from The Canadian Press and Phil Heidenreich, Slav Kornik, Global News.


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