Latest update: The wildfire is now nine times larger than it was yesterday and presently 88,000 people have evacuated and more preparing to leave. Experts on the scene say that without the help of a heavy rainfall, they fear they will not get the fire under control. The weather is spreading the flames, as high winds have entered the area and are hampering fire fighters' efforts. The crews are exhausted and need more 'hands on' help. The damage will be the costliest in Canadian history. So far the estimated damage is around Nine billion dollars and climbing.
The citizens have been outstanding in their generosity, offering meals and accommodation in their homes. The business sector, including hotels and restaurants have open doors, day and night, for free food and shelter, as evacuees arrive. As an interesting sidelight; a grateful population of Syrian immigrants, who have been welcomed to live in Alberta have been at the forefront of aid to the evacuees, volunteering their time, distributing supplies and cooking meals. As one Syrian mom said, 'this gives us the chance to say thank you'. So far , aside from clothing and food, Canadians have raised 11 million dollars for the evacuees and the government has matched the amount and will continue to do so. Also, generous donations are arriving from around the world, including our neighbors and friends in the United States.
More info as it arrives
The wildfire in Fort McMurray has forced the evacuation of the entire community, including several other areas south of the city. Firefighters are trying to battle the out-of-control blaze, which has already destroyed hundreds of homes and is threatening infrastructure.
2:45 p.m. — Saskatchewan assisting Alberta’s wildfire efforts
Reported by Emma Graney:
Resources from Saskatchewan are being used to fight new fire starts in Alberta near the shared border, and an airstrip has been made available in the northern community of Buffalo Narrows, about 250 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.
An emergency management crew from Saskatchewan is also heading to Alberta’s operation centre. Once here, that crew will determine what further assistance the province needs from Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s provincial government is also assessing possible locations to house evacuees if need be.
Like Alberta, the fire risk in Saskatchewan remains high.
Earlier this week, British Columbia turned down a request for help from Alberta to send firefighters to help battle the Fort McMurray blaze, as the province struggles with an early start to it’s own wildfire season.
Ryan Turcot, an information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said Alberta made a request for help Tuesday through the national Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Requests go to all provinces and territories, so that those jurisdictions experiencing lower levels of activity can lend resources if available.
2:30 p.m. — ‘Air tankers are not going to stop this fire’Reported by John Cotter, The Canadian Press
A wildfire that has devastated parts of Fort McMurray has exploded in size, and officials say they are now water bombing the city to keep it from being overwhelmed by flames.
Officials could not update the number of structures that have burned — already at 1,600 — saying crews have not had the time.
“This is an extreme fire event,” Chad Morrison of Alberta Forestry told reporters at a briefing in Edmonton on Thursday.
“Our first priority, obviously, was the community and the homes as well as the critical infrastructure.”
Morrison said they had 22 water bombers and were bringing in more, including four from Quebec.
“But let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire.
“It (the fire) is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain.”
The fire, which had been menacing Fort McMurray since the weekend, rode a rapid shift in winds Tuesday afternoon to cut through the city on an east-west axis, cutting the main road and sending 80,000 residents fleeing in polar opposite directions under a mandatory evacuation order.
Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometres Tuesday to 100 square kilometres on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that — at 850 square kilometres.
The fire remained wrapped around the west and southern edges of the city. If the city was the face of a clock, the fire surrounded it from the number four to 11.
Evacuees began their second full day out of their homes. About 25,000 remained in oilfield work camps north of Fort McMurray while the rest had moved south to stay in hotels, campgrounds, with friends, or in designated areas in Edmonton and as far south as Calgary.
Premier Rachel Notley said the province was exploring “a broad range of supports” for evacuees and expected to roll out some initial aid plans soon.
“To those people who have been displaced from their homes I want you to know that we have your back. You will be supported,” said Notley.
1:45 p.m. — Feds sending choppers, planes, and will match Red Cross donationsReported by Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa:
The federal government is deploying four helicopters and a search-and-rescue plane to Alberta, and will be matching all donations made to the Canadian Red Cross in response to the wildfires that have devastated Fort McMurray.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the measures during an emotional session of Parliament on Thursday, in which parliamentarians set aside their differences to pledge support for the thousands of people affected by the disaster.
“It is with a heavy heart that all Canadians have watched the devastation unfold over the last few days,” Trudeau said. “Homes have been destroyed, neighbourhoods have gone up in flames. The footage we have seen of cars racing down highways as the fire rages on all sides is nothing short of terrifying.
“I know I speak for all members of this House, and 36 million Canadians, when I say that our hearts go out to all affected families,” he added. “We are thinking of and praying for the people of Fort McMurray. Though Alberta’s loss is profound, we will get through this tragedy together, as friends, as neighbours, as Canadians.”
The four Griffon helicopters from nearby Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake and Edmonton, and the Hercules airplane from CFB Trenton, will be used to help ferry firefighters and equipment into the affected area, as well as evacuate people.
Two of the helicopters have already been used to transport first responders to locations where they are needed. They also flew overnight using special night surveillance equipment to help provincial officials plot the extent of the fire. One flew Premier Rachel Notley over the city to see the devastation first-hand.
1:30 p.m. — Fire flares, journalists ordered back to safetyReported by Graham Thomson:
A flare up in the Fort McMurray fire has forced police to hurriedly move its roadblock, which had been located 20 kilometres south of the city, a further 10 kilometres south.
Police ordered journalists that had been camped out at the roadblock , including camera crews from every Canadian network as well as NBC and the BBC, to immediately leave.
The news media formed a rag-tag convoy of cars, vans and satellite trucks on Highway 63 loosely escorted by police vehicles.
Reporters noticed a distant but large plume of black smoke blowing towards them as police urged stragglers into their vehicles.
When asked for more details, RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff Simpson simply replied: “The fire has intensified. Please get in your vehicle and head south.”
1:10 p.m. — No timeline on when evacuees can return homeReported by Emma Graney and Keith Gerein:
There is no word on when the 88,000 fire evacuees from Fort McMurray will be able to return home. Weeks, months – officials are not giving any timeline until the fire is under control.
That fire, burning out of control south of Fort McMurray, is now 85,000 hectares in size and creating its own weather system, including lightning.