PICS: Wildfire forces entire Canadian town to evacuate

2016-05-04 09:33

Fort McMurray – The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents.

An earlier order that had applied to almost 30 000 people, mostly on the city's south side, was extended to tens of thousands more as flames continued to make their way into the city on Tuesday.

The wildfire, whipped by unpredictable winds on a day of high temperatures, worsened dramatically in a short time and many residents had little notice to flee.

Smoke from a wildfire rises in the air as cars line up on a road in Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Greg Halinda/The Canadian Press via AP) 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said officials were doing all they could to ensure everyone's safety and said they were looking into the possibility of an airlift for residents with medical issues.

Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management says the flames had burned a number of structures, but couldn't say how many.

Carol Christian's home was in one of the neighbourhoods under the order to leave. She said it was scary as she drove to an evacuation centre with her son and cat.

"When you leave... it's an overwhelming feeling to think that you'll never see your house again," she said, her voice breaking.

"It was absolutely horrifying when we were sitting there in traffic. You look up and then you watch all the trees candle-topping... up the hills where you live and you're thinking, 'Oh my God. We got out just in time.'"

Work camps associated with oil sands projects well north of the city were being used to house evacuees.

The main road into Fort McMurray, was closed at the southern entrance to the city after flames jumped the road. Pictures posted on Twitter showed long lines of traffic and skies darkened by thick smoke as flames licked the edges of roads.

Smoke rising from a wildfire rages outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Mary Anne Sexsmith-Segato/The Canadian Press via AP)

Smoke fills the air as a small plane flies overhead in Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Kitty Cochrane/The Canadian Press via AP)

Chaos

Fort McMurray is the capital of Alberta's oil sands region and had a population of 61 000, according to the 2011 census. The Alberta oil sands are the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

A local radio reporter said a trailer park that had been evacuated on Monday was on fire and flames were advancing toward businesses.

"It's chaos on the roads. People are panicking. It's gridlock on the roads. Flames are right next to a gas station," said Carina Van Heerde with radio station KAOS.

Crews had seemed to be making progress controlling the blaze, burning since the weekend, but the situation worsened quickly on Tuesday. By mid-afternoon people from three neighbourhoods were told to leave immediately.

Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. The wildfire threat ranged from very high to extreme in different areas.

The Alberta government banned all open fires except in designated camping sites in forested areas due to the threat. There were about 30 fires burning in the province.

The province was calling in more reinforcements to Fort McMurray, including 100 more firefighters and a giant helicopter that can dump more than 2 000l of water at a time.

Smoke rises from a wildfire outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Mary Anne Sexsmith-Segato/The Canadian Press via AP)

Read more on:    canada

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