Canada fire: 88,000 residents forced to flee in Fort McMurray

Alberta declares a state of emergency as fires threaten Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray and lead to the largest wildfire evacuation in Canada

Fort McMurray: Alberta declared a state of emergency as crews frantically held back wind-whipped wildfires that have already torched 1,600 homes and other buildings in Canada’s main oil sands city of Fort McMurray, forcing around 88,000 residents to flee.

A wildfire moves towards Anzac from Fort McMurray. Pic/AP
A wildfire moves towards Anzac from Fort McMurray. Pic/AP

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said fire had destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,600 structures. Flames are being kept from the downtown area thanks to the “Herculean” efforts of firefighters, said Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. No injuries or fire related fatalities have been reported.

The fire appeared near the airport late yesterday where crews were onsite. All commercial flights in and out of Fort McMurray have been suspended. Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinderbox. Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness in the heart of Canada’s oil sands — the third largest reserves of oil in the world.

Firefighting here a challenge
Fighting this fire is especially complicated, because it’s not confined to just a city or wilderness. Fort McMurray is in what firefighters call a Wildland Urban Interface. Forest surrounds and laces through the city. Some of its neighborhoods are built on slopes, hilltops, and other topographic features that channel fire. The city is isolated, with a single freeway connecting it to the outside world and it’s in the middle of the Alberta Tar Sands.

Biggest Canadian evacuations

1950: 100,000
The Red River flood in Winnipeg was the result of one of the most lethal combinations in Canadian weather—heavy snow followed by heavy rain—the river overflowed its banks, submerging much of the city.

1979: 218,000
A train, loaded with dangerous chemicals, derailed near Mississauga and exploded and burst into flames. The whole area had to be evacuated for a week. But no casualties were reported.

2003: 33,000
A forest fire started by a bolt of lightning in Okanagan Mountain Park, B.C. The damage was extensive, and people were forced from their homes, though no one was killed.

2013: 75,000
Alberta was rocked by the worst floods in the province’s history when Calgary and High River were under an evacuation order.

88,000
Approximately the number of residents who have fled the city

1,600
The number of structures torched by the wildfire

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