EDMONTON — Premier Rachel Notley said roughly 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed or damaged by a wildfire that raged through Fort McMurray Tuesday night. Mayor Melissa Blake called the fire a “monster” and said it’s a tragic day. A boil water advisory was issued for the entire region, including area oilsands camps, just after 11 a.m.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Notley said evacuees who headed north to stay in camps and lodges may have be evacuated as well. She said depending on the wind, the fire likely will spread into Fort McMurray’s Thickwood and Timberlea neighbourhoods. The airport could also be threatened.
“Our priority being preservation of life, ensuring that our critical infrastructure is secure that allows us to bring the equipment to the areas to fight this fire,” said Alberta Forestry spokesperson Bernie Schmitte. He said the next 24 hours would be critical, and asked people to stay away from the city so crews could focus on fighting the fire.
Wood Buffalo fire chief Darby Allen became emotional when talking about Tuesday’s mass exodus.
“We successfully evacuated 88,000 people,” he said with a broken voice.
“No one is hurt … and no one has passed away right now. I really hope that we get to the end of this and we can still say that. We are here, we are strong. And we will keep doing our job.”
The out-of-control wildfire is expected to be even worse than it was on Tuesday, thanks to a third day of high temperatures and low humidity. Wind gusts of 20 to 40 km/h are expected. The current size is between 7,500 and 10,000 hectares. One hundred firefighters are fighting the fire, along with 10 air tankers and 10 helicopters.
The military has been called in to help. The province has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of National Defence, detailing assistance needs and helicopters to be made available for rescue operations. Notley said her cabinet has approved $2 million in funding for the Red Cross, and will match donations as well.
The entire city was evacuated Tuesday night, including the hospital. Alberta Health Services said in about two hours, 105 patients and clients were moved from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to Edmonton.