The wildfire that is consuming parts of Fort McMurray, Alberta and the surrounding area has grown from 100 square kilometres to 850 square kilometres since Wednesday.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gave an update on the inferno that is raging through the oilsands city, but couldn’t say exactly how many buildings had been destroyed as fire crews worked to protect key infrastructure.
“Firefighters have been unable to get close enough or to dedicate their time to that particular task. What they have been doing, however, is focusing their efforts in Fort McMurray in protecting key infrastructure.”
Notley said on Wednesday that 1,600 buildings had been wiped out due to the fire.
Officials had an optimistic outlook for the neighbourhoods of Timberlea and Thickwood, north and west of the Athabasca River. However, that was as far as the optimism went for Chad Morrison with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“Let me be clear, air tankers are not going to stop this fire. This fire is an extreme fire event. It’s going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain to help us. The air tankers will help us continue to support resources to support the community and the critical infrastructure there, but I expect this fire to continue to grow over the next number of days.”
— Tom Vernon (@TomVernonGlobal) May 5, 2016
There are 49 wildfires burning in total and seven of them are out of control. As a result, more than 80,000 people have been displaced. Notley said those affected by the fire will be supported. “I want you to know that we have your back. You will be supported. We will ensure that those receiving benefits and services will be able to continue receiving them,” she said in Edmonton. “These are huge numbers to be dealing with and it’s a challenge to get an exact tally of how many people have been evacuated and where they have gone.” The community remains blocked off with road closures on Highways 63 and Highway 881, and on Thursday morning officials said there is still no specific timeline on when people will be able to return home.
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
Close to 25,000 people are believed to be stranded in camps north of Fort McMurray. Scott Long with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said there is now a plan to airlift those evacuees who were cut off from fleeing south of the city.
“It’ll be done two ways, one is through the aviation resources, and as soon as it’s safe to do so, we will provide the gas and the supports to get people on the ground to move through Highway 63 south to those larger communities,”
Meanwhile, a dashcam video has surfaced showing one man’s daring escape from the city.
Michael Chamberland says he was worried because “things were moving pretty slow” on the road trying to get out as thousands of other residents were evacuating.
The federal government has vowed to match Red Cross donations for Fort McMurray.
With files from Karen Bartko and David Shum via Global News.
Photo via Reid Feist, Global News.