Fort McMurray, Alberta: Fire Destroys 80 Percent of Homes, 80,000 Residents Ordered to Evacuate

By Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
May 4, 2016 Updated: May 5, 2016

More than 80,000 Canadian residents were ordered to evacuate after a fire took over Fort McMurray, Alberta, while officials warned on May 4 the situation could get worse.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the blaze destroyed 80 percent of homes in the Beacon Hill suburb’s south end. In the neighborhood of Timberlea, a dozen trailers were damaged, while serious losses were reported in suburbs Abasand and Waterways. Many more homes were lost in other neighborhoods, too.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called it the biggest evacuation in the history of the province. There are no reports of injuries yet.

The fire has been burning since May 1 and seemed on its way to being stabilized on May 3, but winds shifted quickly and drastically, overwhelming firefighters.

Fire chief Darby Allen told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that parts of wooded areas of the city are still on fire but no structures were currently ablaze. Allen said he’s worried about the plumes of smoke and about the wind and its direction.

“It could be even more devastating unfortunately,” he said.

Forestry manager Bernie Schmitte said there is danger from “very high temperatures, low relative humidities and strong winds.”

Firefighters attempted to protect critical infrastructure, including the only bridge across the Athabasca River and Highway 63, the only path to the city from the south.

The federal government is monitoring the situation carefully, including the military, according to officials.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the situation during the caucus meeting. He called the evacuation “extremely difficult,” and said the government is offering “total support.”

The prime minister sympathized with the victims of the blaze saying it is a “terrible time” for them since many have “lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their property.”

“All we can say is we are here for them,” said Trudeau. 

He also posted on Twitter, saying the federal government stands ready to help and urged people to follow evacuation orders.

Videos and images posted on social media showed the intensity of the blaze. A clip shows people driving through huge smoke trying to evacuate the area.

People in the area who were forced to evacuate were in shock.

“When you leave … it’s an overwhelming feeling to think that you’ll never see your house again,” said resident Carol Christian, who drove to the evacuation center with her son and their cat.

“It was absolutely horrifying when we were sitting there in traffic. You look up and then you watch all the trees candle-topping … up the hills where you live and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God. We got out just in time,'” said Christian.

Fort McMurray is the center of Canada’s oil sands region. The Alberta oil sands are the third largest reserves of oil in the world following Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Most oil sands projects are north of the area, while the worst of the flames were on the south side.

The Red Cross has begun collecting donations to help victims of the fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno