A massive wildfire that forced all 88,000 people to flee the western Canadian oil city of Fort McMurray and burned down 1,600 structures is now threatening its airport and communities well south of the town, informed by authorities, on Wednesday
Conditions got even worse as few neighborhoods already ruined, worsening fire conditions spread all over the northeastern Alberta town, in the heart of Canada’s oil sands region.
The winds also turned the fire toward the local airport, with webcam images showing black smoke engulfing the airport late. Officials confirmed that a hotel north of main terminal had caught fire.
As flames spread to south, officials also issued mandatory migration orders for the Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation communities located about 50 km south of Fort McMurray.
Officials were forced to empty their make-shift emergency operations center for the second time in the span of less than a day as the flames spread south. Officials at the center said in a tweet that they were relocating to the town of Lac La Biche some 250 km south of Anzac.
Authorities said “there had been no known casualties from the blaze itself, but fatalities were reported in at least one car crash among the evacuees. Thousands bunked down in arenas, hockey rinks and oil work camps, often short of fuel and food.”
All this started to be seen from Tuesday as a huge cloud of black smoke was visible from well over 60 km away from the town and Traffic on the main road headed south had thinned to a trickle, however, after major jams on Tuesday when the evacuation order was given.
Stretches of the highway had been converted into make-shift campgrounds by people in cars, trucks and recreation vehicles, who were fleeing the inferno.
Firefighting crews were unable to stop the wildfire, which has charred 18,500 acres since it erupted on Sunday and exploded in ferocity. “It is a possibility that we may lose a large portion of the town,” said Scott Long, an official with Alberta’s emergency management agency.
Major oil sands facilities were not in the path of the flames, but companies’ efforts to help employees and evacuees and protect pipelines led to a decline in production. Officials said 80% of houses in the neighborhood, nearly 600 in total and overall 16,000 structures were destroyed.
The province declared a state of emergency for rising Canada’s costliest natural disaster.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the military can deploy air force planes to the stricken city as needed. Fort McMurray international airport suspended all commercial flights and declared as’ Extreme wildfire behavior’
It was the second major mishap in the oil sands region in a year.
The wildfire’s major effects on oil sands operations went up on Wednesday, with five companies including Suncor Energy and Husky Energy reporting reduced production either because workers had been affected by the evacuations or because of precautionary pipeline shutdowns.
Officials said very hot and dry conditions meant “extreme wildfire behavior” on all fronts around the fire.
The Canadian Red Cross said evacuees were calling the organization for help getting food and water leading to a highway closure forced most evacuees to drive north, away from major cities. By Wednesday morning, the highway had reopened, but fuel had run out, stranding evacuees. Alberta’s transport department said it was escorting a fuel tanker north to help stranded drivers.
Twitter filled with offers of food, housing and animal care as worried evacuees asked officials and strangers alike about the status of their homes. Two babies were born at one evacuation center.
Wildfires rose in neighboring houses in British Columbia, including a 9,000 hectare blaze in the province’s northeast that was threatening to spread across the border.