Wildfire destroys Fort McMurray homes, most of city evacuated
Thousands of people are fleeing Fort McMurray as wildfire leaps highway and into city
CBC News, May 3, 2016
A huge wildfire raging in Fort McMurray, Alta., has burned homes in some neighbourhoods and residents fleeing the fire have caused gridlock on Highway 63 leading south out of the city.
Robin Smith, a spokesman for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, confirmed to CBC News that homes in Beacon Hill and the Centennial Trailer Park have been destroyed.
The fire is now threatening Abasand and Grayling Terrace.
The municipality said the fire breached Highway 63 at the MacKenzie Boulevard intersection south of the city.
The lower townsite and downtown area, now including MacDonald Island Park, and 10 neighbourhoods in the oilsands city have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders because of the fire.
That’s forced 29,000 out of their homes.
The Abasand, Beacon Hill, Dickensfield, Grayling Terrace, Wood Buffalo, Thickwood, Waterways, Saline Creek, Draper and Gregoire neighbourhoods are under mandatory evacuation notices and residents have been ordered to leave their homes.
Most residents are urged to go to Noralta Lodge 20 km north of Fort McMurray, while Gregoire residents are to go to Anzac Recreation Centre.
The municipality is asking evacuees not to go home to retrieve pets and some have also lost property.
‘It’s probably all blown away now’
The fire had barely hit the Centennial Trailer Park before John Davidson and his girlfriend Joanne Bates had lost everything.
“It was the second one to go,” said Davidson. “It’s probably all blown away now.”
Behind him, the flames consumed what was left of the trailer park where his former home sat.
Davidson and Bates had lived there for more than a year and had everything, including vehicles and two snowmobiles there.
“Everything I worked for for the last two years, it’s all gone,” said Davidson.
While the two commend the RCMP and the fire department, they are upset that they weren’t able to get into the trailer park to get their belongings.
“It’s a disaster,” said Bates. “I think it’s not fair. They didn’t even let us take our things, so we lost everything.”
Jumped the Athabasca River
Thickwood residents were given a voluntary evacuation notice. Residents there were advised to prepare for a mandatory evacuation on 30-minute notice. Parents are advised by the public school board to pick up their children from school as soon as possible.
Businesses at the mall downtown were told at about 2:45 p.m. MT to close up and send staff home to prepare for possible evacuation.
The situation on the ground appears to have changed dramatically in the last three hours.
Overnight, the huge fire burning west of the town jumped the Athabasca River and ignited a small spot fire on the opposite side.
That second fire was among the top priorities for firefighters on Tuesday, said Darby Allen, fire chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Allen said 80 firefighters are currently battling the main fire west of town, and another 10 were sent to take on the spot fire across the river.
Water bombers and a number of helicopters are involved in the work.
“We’re in for a very rough day,” Allen said at an 11 a.m. MT news conference.
Allen addressed some of the confusion about the size of the fire. Estimates late Monday put the fire at about 1,800 hectares, and Allen said some people may have been surprised to see how much it had grown overnight.
“We’re not hiding anything from anybody,” he said. “We don’t know the size of that fire until we get up in the morning and get up into the air.”