(A Canadian Forces member briefs Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (right) on Thursday. Canadian Forces photo via Twitter)
APTN National News
The first convoy of evacuees in vehicles is expected to begin moving south “at first light” on Friday morning from camps north of Fort McMurray which was cleared of residents this week after a massive wildfire breached the city’s perimeter.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the first convoy is expected to include about 400 vehicles once officials receive the all-clear that Hwy 63, the only route out of Fort McMurray, is safe to travel.
“We will see how well it goes and orchestrate additional ones afterward,” said Notley, during a press conference Thursday evening.
About 25,000 people were evacuated to oil industry camps north of Fort McMurray, including at Fort McKay First Nation, following Tuesday’s evacuation that saw about 88,000 moved out of the city. The majority of evacuees were taken to Edmonton and Calgary and officials have been working to move the remainder in the northern camps south.
The wildfire that forced the evacuation has now moved southeast of Fort McMurray and has spread across 85,000 hectares as of Thursday evening.
Notley said 4,000 people from camps north of Fort McMurray had been flown south as of Thursday evening with a target of 8,000 by the end of the day. She said people have been flown out of the camp as a result of oil industry support and on WestJet flights.
The premier said fuel would be moved to the staging area north of the city for Friday’s planned evacuation.
Officials said there were plans Thursday to begin moving evacuees south, but heavy smoke stopped those plans following reconnaissance flights by Canadian military assets, said Scott Long, executive director of Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
“The wildfire was jumping in areas, but it was primarily heavy smoke, we didn’t want people overcome as they went through,” said Long.
Long said there would be an RCMP escort at the front and back of the convoy moving in a “package, controlled manner.”
Flights would also continue to be used to evacuate people from the north to the south, primarily to Calgary and Edmonton. It was hoped up to 7,000 people would be moved by the end of the day Friday.
Long said there were already a number of vehicles at the Hwy 63 blockade north of Fort McMurray and it would be up to the RCMP on the ground to determine which vehicles moved first.
Chad Morrison, senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention, said water bombers, helicopters and bulldozers along with wildfire and urban firefighters were engaged in battling the flames. He said they were making success keeping the fire away from the city of Fort McMurray and preventing the damage from growing beyond the 1,600 buildings and homes already destroyed.
Morrison said the fire was now moving southeast and was about three kilometres from Anzac and firefighters there were battling to preserve the town.
“It’s right on its doorstep,” said Morrison.
Notley said school boards in Calgary and Edmonton would also be providing spaces for displaced students. She said the cabinet was currently developing a plan to provide additional income from people displaced by the evacuation. Notley said the provincial government was also working to come up with a plan for transitional housing.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba have also offered assistance to Alberta in a command-and-control capacity.
Alberta also instituted a province-wide fire ban Thursday as a result of extremely dry conditions across the province.