Entire city of 80,000 forced to flee devastating wildfires
A state of emergency has been declared in Fort McMurray after a massive wildfire tore through hundreds of homes and forced the city's entire population to evacuate.
Alberta firefighters said yesterday morning that the blaze was yet to be contained, but praised the efforts of scores of volunteers who rushed to the city to provide fuel for those fleeing the devastation by car.
Among the 1,600 buildings devastated by the fire was a petrol station, a hospital, a newly built school and hundreds of homes.
Video footage of the scene shows how traffic was lined up bumper-to-bumper along the highways leading from Fort McMurray, as trees burn in the distance.
More than 80,000 people have been forced to flee Fort McMurray, while fresh evacuation orders have been issued for other towns standing in the wildfire's path.
No injuries or deaths have been linked to the blaze, which has been driven across Alberta's oil sands region by scorching temperatures and strong winds.
Several overlapping factors are said to have caused the wildfire. Alberta saw a particularly warm winter, with temperatures rising steadily since the start of the year.
Those higher temperatures, combined with some powerful winds, rapidly turned a small into a massive blaze.
Scientists have suggested the higher temperatures can be attributed to El Nino, the gradual warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has ordered the largest evacuation in Alberta's history in a bid to get its citizens out of harm's way.
"This fire is absolutely devastating," he said yesterday. "It's a loss on a scale that is hard for many of us to imagine."
"Obviously, Fort McMurray being evacuated has been extremely difficult, not just for the province and officials, but for the folks who live there," he added.
It comes as evacuation orders were issued for two other towns in Alberta - High Level, which has a population of around 4,000, and Lac Ste Anne, a lake community which is home to a few hundred people.
The fire has scorched more than 25,000 acres of land, meaning Canada's firefighters have a Herculean task ahead of them.
"This is a very explosive situation," Bernie Schmitte, of Alberta's agriculture and forestry ministry, said. "These are catastrophic wildfires."
He warned that the next 24 hours would be critical and has issued an urgent appeal for to Canadians to keep off the roads in the area to allow emergency services full access to the worst affected areas.
"We are going to ask you to stay where you are so that we can utilize all roads," he said.
More than 250 firefighters are battling with the flames, along with nine air tankers and around a dozen helicopters, while the Canadian army has been put on standby.
Mr Trudeau said he's offered the province his government's full support. He encouraged Canadians to support friends and donate to the Red Cross.
Trudeau noted climate change is contributing to an increase in extreme weather and fires but said it's difficult to establish a direct link.
Most oil sands projects are well north of the community, while the worst of the flames were on the city's south side. Allen said he's not aware of any threat to oil facilities but called the fire a "moving animal."
Notley said about 10,000 evacuees moved north where oil sands work camps were being pressed into service to house evacuees. The bulk of the evacuees fled south to Edmonton and elsewhere, and officials said they eventually would like to move everyone south. (© Daily Telegraph London)