Fort McMurray Residents Airlifted to Escape Wildfire

Fort McMurray

Wildfires blazing through Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada have forced more than 88,000 residents from their homes. The fires affecting the area have grown to 328.2 square miles, which is approximately the size of Alberta’s largest city Calgary. The entire town has been evacuated due to the wildfires. There were about 17,000 residents who went north of Fort McMurray as opposed to the south, and now need to relocate once again.

As of May 5, 2016, about 4,000 people displaced by the fires have been airlifted via military and civilian planes to escape the blaze. The remaining residents are expecting to be moved as the roads become safer for transport vehicles. There is only one road that leads out of the northern rural areas where escapees fled, which has remained closed since the blaze took over the city.

Authorities in charge are hoping that Highway 63, which runs through Fort McMurray will be safe enough to move the remaining residents. However, as of May 6, at 1:21 a.m. EDT, CTV reported the road was still closed. Once the road is safe a helicopter will guide the convoy along the way. The evacuees are being moved again because the urban areas south of town are better equipped to help residents.

The Canadian government is working to find temporary housing for residents who lost homes and possessions in the fire. The Alberta Premier, Rachel Notley, released a statement urging residents to stay away from the area. She told BBC News that the entire city of Fort McMurray was unsafe and that residents must stay away. She continued to warn residents that the extensive damage would mean a long wait before they would be able to return home.

The fires are already responsible for destroying over 1,600 homes and businesses in Fort McMurray. There have been no casualties reported as a result of the fires. The evacuees are all being set up in schools and public centers in Calgary and Edmonton.

The fires started Sunday, May 1, in Canada’s oil sands region. There are over 1,100 firefighters, more than 100 helicopters and dozens of air tankers all fighting the spreading fires. Winds and dry air have made controlling the blaze difficult. While authorities continue to fight the fires, the forecast for less wind and some rain is hoped to help calm the blazes. The cooler weather would allow authorities to gain more control over containing and stopping it all together.

Insurance companies are estimating the Fort McMurray damage at over $9 billion dollars if the entire city needs to be rebuilt.  The cost is equivalent to Nova Scotia’s annual budget.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will match any individual donations to the Red Cross for Fort McMurray. The city of Alberta also announced that they would match dollar for dollar of individual donations given for relief efforts. Fort McMurray residents are looking for more government assistance as many are also unable to work. The community leaders are requesting Canada’s federal government move quickly to provide employment insurance to evacuees as well.

The Fort McMurray evacuees are holding fast despite the challenging situation they are facing. Rona Ambrose, the interim Official Opposition leader, released a statement saying that while this is a tough time for Albertans, they will persevere. The conservative leader was adamant that political groups would work together to support all residents affected by the wildfires that destroyed Fort McMurray.

By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Cathy Milne


BBC News: Canada Wildfire: Thousands airlifted from Fort McMurray as blaze grows
Toronto Star: Size of Fort McMurray fire as fast as losses mount Fort mcMurray fire: Alberta airlifts evacuees, readies convoy
Wall Street Journal: Wildfire spreads in oil sands region

Photo Courtesy of Cameron Strandberg’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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