Alberta wildfires destroyed 1,600 structures, forced evacuation of 88,000 people from Fort McMurray

Wildfire around Fort McMurray about 10,000 hectares in size

APTN National News
Fire crews in Alberta are engaging a “multi-headed monster” wildfire that has so far consumed 10,000 hectares and forced the evacuation of 88,000 people from Fort McMurray and destroyed over 1,000 structures in the city, the premier and officials said Wednesday.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the wildfire destroyed 1,600 structures in the city which was evacuated Tuesday amid apocalyptic scenes of highways lined with vehicles fleeing their homes against a flaming backdrop.

Darby Allen, director of emergency management for the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, said fire crews were facing another “bad day” following Tuesday’s sudden shift in the wildfire that penetrated Fort McMurray, destroying a whole swaths of neighbourhoods.

“No one is hurt and no one is passed away right now,” said an emotional Allen, in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday. “I really hope we can get to the end of this and still say that. We are here, we are strong and we’ll keep doing our jobs.”

Allen said fire crews worked throughout out the night fighting flames within the city which were finally vanquished by about 5 a.m.

“This is a nasty, dirty fire. There are certainly areas within the city that have not been burned, but this fire will look for them, find them and will want to take them,” said Allen.

A cold front expected to move into the region Wednesday was expected to bring with it some mixed blessings. Low humidity and hot temperatures aided the spread of the wildfire Tuesday. The cold front could lower temperatures, but also trigger lighting, said Allen.

“It’s not what we really want in this situation,” he said.

Officials said the next 24 hours would prove critical in the battle being waged against the fire and the fate of the city which is in the heart of Alberta’s oil patch.

Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality Mayor Melissa Blake said the oil industry was responding by providing use of camps and lodges to help shelter evacuees.

“I am commending our citizens for standing strong and resilience,” said Blake.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, in a conference call from Germany early today, confirmed a formal request for assistance has been received from the Alberta government and the military is preparing to engage in the battle.

The nearby Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation declared a state of emergency Wednesday, according to spokesperson Eriel Deranger. Deranger said the First Nation would be using boats and flights to evacuate community members, along from the Mikisew Cree First Nation, who were in Fort McKay following their evacuation from Fort McMurray, to Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith, NWT.

Deranger said there was concern the membership could be stranded in Fort McKay.

-with files from The Canadian Press

[email protected]