80,000 residents of Fort McMurray have been displaced because of a wildfire emergency according to an update provided by officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo at 10 p.m. MT Tuesday night.
Officials said fires were burning throughout different parts of the city and that Beacon Hill “appears to be lost”, one side of Abasand is believed to have been lost and that homes had been lost in Dickinsfield. They also said trailers in the Centennial Trailer Park are believed to have been lost.
The wildfire grew suddenly on Tuesday because of what Alberta Forestry spokesperson Bernie Schmitte described as ‘very explosive conditions.’
“Basically the fire behaviour was beyond all control efforts,” he said. “The worst of the fire is not over.”
Schmitte said 150 firefighters were currently battling the flames and that help was being brought in from across Canada.
Incredibly, officials said they have no reports of any fatalities or serious injuries. At 10 p.m. MT, officials said they were not aware of any structures on fire in the downtown and that the areas most threatened by fire were in the northwest part of the city near Thickwood and Timberlea as well as Clearwater.
“Everything that was absolutely possible was done to protect this city,” Darby Allen, Wood Buffalo fire chief and director of emergency management in the area, said.
Throughout the night, traffic continued to be incredibly busy on Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray as people tried to make their way to safety.
Of the thousands of people displaced, officials said 17,000 had travelled north and efforts are being made to find those evacuees accommodations in industry camps. Most evacuees had headed south: 18,000 are believed to be heading to Edmonton, 9,000 to Lac La Biche and 8,000 to Anzac.
Officials said through the province, they have requested military support which they expect to arrive at some point before Friday and that a request has also been made for additional food supplies.
Fort McMurray has run out of fuel and the next 24 hours will be focused on making sure everybody has safely left the evacuation zone, finding lodging for evacuees, tending to medical needs and helping stranded motorists on Highway 63 and Highway 881.
Backup satellite communication is being set up in the event cellphone signals are lost.
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said the flames have burned a number of structures, but he couldn’t say how many. One hotel was seen engulfed in flames. Residents reported hearing explosions coming from gas stations as they tried to leave.
As of 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, the following Fort McMurray neighbourhoods has suffered damage:
Beacon Hill: significant damage
Abasand: light damage
Wood Buffalo: light damage
Dickensfield: light damage
Waterways: light damage
While the situation escalated quickly Tuesday, Alberta’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Forestry Bruce Mayer said Wednesday’s forecast didn’t sound promising for conditions to improve.
“Tomorrow when the cold front comes in, middle to late day, the winds will be switched from the west heading east, or from the northwest heading southeast. It’ll be gusting anywhere from 25 to 50 kilometres,” Mayer said Tuesday afternoon.
The hospital in Fort McMurray – the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre – was being evacuated at 5:20 p.m. and by 8 p.m., AHS said it had evacuated all patients there: 73 acute care patients and 32 continuing care patients. AHS said all those patients are being flown to Edmonton health care facilities to receive care.
“Those patients and clients are now being looked after at an oilsands site north of Fort McMurray, and are currently out of danger,” AHS said in a statement just after 11 p.m. MT. “AHS has arranged to have a 737 plane airlift those patients and clients from the oilsands site. That flight is expected to take place late tonight.”
AHS said it has capacity in other zones to care for the displaced patients and continuing care clients.
Premier Rachel Notley said her heart goes out to those impacted by the wildfire.
“I know it’s a very scary time. I know it’s a very, very stressful time for people to be having to leave their homes under these conditions. Our focus is completely and entirely right now on ensuring the safety of people, of getting them out of the city and ensuring they are safe and secure.”
“I would simply urge everybody to follow the encouragement of officials, of the RCMP, the sheriffs who are on the ground,” she added. “As frustrating and as scary as it is to leave your home, it’s not as frustrating and scary as to find that you’re trapped by your home if the fire changes direction.”
Ralph Goodale, federal minister of emergency preparedness, said he had spoken to the Alberta government to “assure all support.” Goodale said the federal government’s operations centre and Department of National Defence was “fully engaged” and standing by to provide assistance if needed.
The Red Cross told Global News it is currently working with the Ministry of Human Services to coordinate its response and expects to have a plan in effect later Tuesday evening.
It said 200 trained volunteers are able to deploy immediately and that it is asking Canadians who want to donate to do so online.
The Red Cross has set up a family reunification number for Fort McMurray evacuees: 1-888-350-6070. Donations can also be given online.
The social media giant Facebook activated its Safety Check feature which is aimed at letting people quickly inform friends and family they are safe during events like natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Emily Mertz, Phil Heidenreich and Caley Ramsay – Global News