EDITOR’S NOTE: This story will be updated throughout Tuesday with the latest information.
As of 11:30 a.m. MT Tuesday, two fires in the Fort McMurray area had joined to create a wildfire roughly 229,000 hectares in size. It is 25 kilometres from the Saskatchewan boundary.
There are 700 firefighters, 26 helicopters, 13 air tankers and 46 pieces of heavy equipment units battling the wildfire. A steady stream of water bombers continued to fly over the road block south of Fort McMurray Tuesday. There was no heavy smoke, but crews were hitting hotspots.
Fire conditions across Alberta are still considered extreme and there are 25 wildfires burning. More than 1,545 firefighters are working on blazes across the province.
Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation remain under a mandatory evacuation order. Still, preliminary re-entry planning is under way and a schedule is expected within two weeks.
“I know first-hand how hard it is to be away from your community, not knowing what you’ll find when you return home,” Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said. “However, our priority is the safety of Albertans and right now Fort McMurray is not safe. We need to let trained professionals into Fort McMurray, so it’s safe for residents to return home.”
While the community still wasn’t deemed safe for re-entry, there were more signs of optimism in Fort McMurray Tuesday evening as Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen posted yet another social media message in which he said, “We think we’ve got this thing beat in McMurray.”
However, Allen also pointed out that the fire was still massive and continued to still threaten communities south of Fort McMurray.
Watch below: Despite the ongoing efforts of emergency crews, the destructive Fort McMurray wildfire is still growing. As Shaye Ganam reports, fire conditions remain extreme across much of Alberta.
Roads and transportation
Travel into Fort McMurray was still restricted to essential services only as of 6:20 p.m. Tuesday. There is still no public access into the city.
“Transporting oilsands supplies and equipment through Fort McMurray is an essential service and vital to mitigate the fire’s impact on Alberta’s and Canada’s economies,” the Alberta government said in a news release.
As of Tuesday, industrial and commercial vehicles carrying supplies and equipment for oilsands operations were being allowed through Fort McMurray to work sites north of the city.
WATCH: While evacuees are still not allowed back into Fort McMurray, oil workers north are being allowed back to work
The RCMP blockade for northbound traffic was moved from the Highway 63/881 junction to the oversized load rest area eight kilometres south of Fort McMurray. Any vehicles travelling into Fort McMurray must register for a permit at that traffic control point.
Highway 881 remains closed in both directions between the Highway 63 junction just north of Janvier due to wildfire.
Emergency financial assistance
More information on the pre-loaded debit cards available to those who have been displaced will be released Wednesday.
Each adult will receive $1,250 and each dependent will receive $500. However, the province is asking evacuees who are not in dire need of the funds to not claim them immediately in order to get the money to those who need it most sooner.
The province is working with Wood Buffalo Animal Control, Alberta SPCA and other partners in Fort McMurray to rescue dogs, cats and other pets left behind during the emergency evacuation. Anyone with a pet they were forced to leave behind during the mass evacuation should register online here.
The first transport of rescued animals from Fort McMurray arrived at the Alberta SPCA reception centre in Edmonton early Monday. More than 200 animals were checked and their owners will be contacted as soon as possible.
Notley meets with big oil
Premier Rachel Notley is meeting with energy company executives Tuesday to discuss how to get the area’s oilsands industry back on track following the evacuation of the region.
CEO Mark Ward of Syncrude Canada and Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., will be among those meeting Notley this afternoon in Edmonton. Representatives from Cenovus, Imperial Oil, Nexen, Shell, Suncor and Enbridge will also be attending.
WATCH: It’s too dangerous to keep working in some places, meaning as many as one million barrels of oil a day are being lost. Eric Sorensen looks at the hit the industry is taking.
One week since mass evacuation
One week ago today the population of an entire city was forced from their homes after a wildfire south of Fort McMurray exploded in size. As some 80,000 people fled north and south, the flames ripped through dry brush and fire-friendly coniferous trees, destroying homes, cars and other buildings in its wake.
In less than one week, the fire consumed 204,000 hectares of land — nearly three times the size of Edmonton.
RCMP officers have been going door to door throughout Fort McMurray to make sure nobody remained in the community ever since the wildfire began to burn there. On Tuesday evening, a tweet from the RCMP Alberta Twitter account said officers had completed their canvassing and discovered some homes were unsecured. Police said they believe the houses were found that way because residents made a hasty exit and efforts are now underway to secure the homes.
On Monday, officials said the fire had destroyed around 2,400 structures, but 85 per cent of Fort McMurray was still standing. Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen said between 40 and 50 per cent of the northeastern Alberta community could have been destroyed if firefighters hadn’t been able to hold back the flames at key points.
While several neighbourhoods were completely levelled, other areas and the city’s downtown core were spared. The hospital, water treatment plant, as well as downtown gas stations and hotels were still there.
WATCH: New images reveal what was lost and what is still standing, but authorities still don’t know when residents can go back home. Randene Neill has the dramatic street-level images, and Fletcher Kent explains what a newly issued timeline means.
There are 13 reception centres operating across Alberta. For details on each, visit the government’s website here. A transitional shelter plan is being developed for those displaced. As of Tuesday, anyone at a reception centre, community centre or hotel was asked to stay where they are. The province is hoping to move people to more comfortable, transitional accommodations as soon as possible.
The province said 44,882 households (more than 90,000 people) had registered with the Red Cross. All evacuees must register no matter where they are staying. You can register online or by calling 1-888-350-6070.
Watch below: It’s been a stressful week for Fort McMurray residents displaced by a massive wildfire. Now, some evacuees are saying a lack of information is only adding to their stress. Tom Vernon reports.
Northlands reception centre stomach bug
Many of the evacuees fled to Edmonton, where a reception centre was set up at Northlands Expo Centre. As of Tuesday morning, 16,200 people had used the centre in some capacity: 11,200 had registered there, and 407 people were eating, sleeping and receiving essentials there.
The City of Edmonton is providing daily updates on the reception centre activity, including the outbreak of a viral stomach bug.
The number of evacuees in Edmonton showing symptoms of viral gastroenteritis grew from 50 to 105 people between Monday and Tuesday. Seventy-five cases were reported at the Northlands reception centre, which has dealt with thousands of wildfire evacuees. Viral gastroenteritis cases were found in three AHS zones (Edmonton, Calgary and Central).
WATCH: Dr. Chris Sikora, Senior Medical Officer of Health for the Edmonton zone, updated the outbreak of viral gastroenteritis among Fort McMurray residents staying at evacuation centres in the city on Tuesday.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally stated the gastroenteritis was found at evacuation centres in central Alberta and Calgary, but it was later confirmed it was present at three AHS Zones, not centres.