Fort McMurray: Dramatic 1,500-Car Convoy Evacuation Underway as Fire Rages

May 6, 2016 Updated: October 5, 2018

Convoys of thousands of people who are stranded north of Fort McMurray by massive wildfires in the Canadian region are driving south Friday, escorted by authorities.

Meanwhile, over 1,100 firefighters continue to battle the raging inferno, which is still growing. As of Thursday night, there were 49 fires, seven still out of control.

Some 25,000 people have been stranded in camps north of the city since Tuesday, where they had escaped to as wildfires cut off their escape route south. But supplies are dwindling and the area is not set up for such a huge volume of people.

At least 4,000 were evacuated on Thursday, according to Alberta Province Premier Rachel Notley.

Location of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. (Screenshot of Google Maps)
Location of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. (Screenshot of Google Maps)

On Friday, police are leading a convoy of 1,500 vehicles through the fire-ravaged area with a help of a helicopter acting as a fire spotter, CTV reported.

The evacuation is expected to take 4 days, according to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo official Twitter account.

The convoy is divided into groups of 50 vehicles. Nobody is allowed to stop or leave the convoy.

CBC’s Marion Warnica was on scene interviewing the evacuees.

Brad Williams and Leah Arnold have been waiting to evacuate since Tuesday afternoon. Now they’re just anxious to get out, Arnold said.

Hon Fong, an oil worker from Edmonton, had no complaints. “We’re awesome,” he said with a bright smile. “We’re waiting.” He’s been in a camp for 3 days.

As the convoy was getting ready to drive south through the wildfire area, Fong said he’ll think of the simple things. “Besides my children and my wife,” he said, he’ll think of  a “nice dinner.”

The convoy stopped multiple times to allow emergency vehicles, fuel, and fire trucks through.


“Things have calmed down in the city a little bit, but guys are out as we speak fighting fires, trying to protect your property,” said Darby Allen, fire chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in a late nigh Twitter update. “The beast is still up. It’s surrounding the city and we’re doing our very best for you.”

The fire spread to 100,000 hectares (close to 400 square miles), the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Tweeted shortly after Friday noon. That’s more than the total land area of New York City’s five boroughs. The fire could cost insurers up to $9 billion, a Bank of Montreal analyst told CBC.

A May 5, 2016, satellite image of Fort McMurray with fires or heat anomalies marked in red. (Screenshot of NASA Worldview)
A May 5, 2016, satellite image of Fort McMurray with fires or heat anomalies marked in red. (Screenshot of NASA Worldview)

There has been a large outpouring of support for the first responders.

Country 93.3 radio show host Pete Potipcoe evacuated from Fort McMurray on May 3. On Thursday, he shared a story of a firefighter and a volunteer who sacrificed their own homes to save a home of another family.

The family lost a child, Emily Ryan, a 16-year-old triplet and daughter of a deputy fire chief, who died in a car crash on Highway 881 while fleeing the fires Wednesday, reported.

Her sister, Chelsi Ryan, asked Potipcoe to share the story. The fire itself hasn’t claimed a life. But the fatal accident is considered related.

“This is a giant monster that we are battling up here, but the men and women up here are the best men and women you will ever come across in your lifetime,” shared Adam Bugden, firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician at Regional Municipality Of Wood Buffalo on his Facebook page Thursday night.

“I am tired and beaten down but this will not break us!”

See full coverage of the Fort McMurray wildfires here

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab