Sunday, 8 May 2016

Fires spreading NE to Sakatchewan border

Latest reports suggest the fire is moving way from Fort McMurray and the tar sands area NE towards the Saskatchewan border.
Flames from Fort McMurray fires edging, slowly, to Saskatchewan

7 May, 2016, 9:08 PM CT

A fire that is raging around Fort McMurray — dubbed "the beast" — is edging east to the boundary with Saskatchewan, but not very quickly.

Late Saturday, officials from Saskatchewan noted that no communities in the province are in immediate danger.

They are tracking two fires in Alberta that, depending on the weather, could reach Saskatchewan.

The smaller northern fire is about 22 kilometres from the Saskatchewan border, while the larger fire is about 37 kilometres away, the province said.

"The progress of the fire is weather dependent and current projections show it moving east toward over the next 18 hours."

The province's Wildfire Management Branch is working to fight the fire in conjunction with its Alberta counterpart.

"Tanker aircraft from Saskatchewan have been attacking the fire," the statement added.

Saskatchewan is also considering a controlled burn "to remove potential fuel from the fire's projected path".

More than 500 firefighters are now battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters, 14 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment.

The Alberta government said the area damaged by fire or still burning had grown last night to 1,560 square kilometres.

Fort McMurray wildfire could reach Suncor oilsands site today

Firefighters from across Canada heading to Fort McMurray: Ralph Goodale

Notley said the fire is burning away from communities, but weather conditions are making fighting the fire more difficult

Saskatchewan officials have also implement a total ban on fires for the northern half of the province, which is heavily forested.

In the southern part of the province, fire bans are in effect in over 100 communities.

As of Saturday morning, Saskatchewan was reporting seven wildfires in the province. Of those, two were "contained" meaning work was being done to suppress the flames and the fire is not expected to grow in size.

The other fires were classified as under "assessment", meaning a fire is being "monitored regularly to assess risk" to valuable assets in the area of the fire.

Alberta wildfire explodes across forests: 'in no way is this fire under control'
  • Volatile winds and heavy smoke keep 500 firefighters at bay
  • Fire could double in size to 300,000 hectares by Sunday

7 May, 2016

The devastating wildfire in northern Alberta could double in size by Sunday as officials frantically worked to evacuate thousands of people still trapped north of the oil city of Fort McMurray.

In no way is this fire under control,” Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta, said on Saturday, almost one week after the fire first ignited in a remote forested area of the province.

The weather today is going to be significantly worse for fighting fires,” she added, pointing to the temperatures upwards of 82F (28C) and winds gusting up to 25mph (40kmh). “Officials tell us the fire may double in size in the forested areas today. As well, it may actually reach the Saskatchewan border.”

The size of the fire was estimated at 156,000 hectares (385,000 acres) on Saturday but could reach as much as 300,000 hectares by Sunday, officials said.

The fire’s spectacular growth, combined with volatile winds and a heavy layer of smoke hanging over the area have challenged authorities as they seek to move evacuees south of Fort McMurray, far from the path of the fire, and into the province’s major cities where more extensive support services are available. Officials have warned that the blaze could continue to burn for weeks.

Around 12,000 people were moved south in mass airlifts that began on Thursday. Another 7,000 people were escorted in convoys that crawled through the dense smoke, taking evacuees through the charred city that had been hurriedly evacuated on Tuesday. The goal, said Notley, is to have every evacuee moved south by the end of the day on Saturday.

More than 80,000 residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, in the heart of Alberta’s oilsands region, on Tuesday after shifting winds transformed the blaze from one that was largely in control to a “multi-headed monster” inferno, in the words of the local mayor.

As reports emerged in recent days of a small number of residents still in the city, Notley reminded them of the mandatory evacuation order.

If you aren’t a police officer, firefighter or otherwise have a specific first responder role in the emergency,” she said, “you should not be in Fort McMurray.”

More than 500 firefighters, 15 helicopters, 88 fire engines, 12 pieces of heavy equipment and 14 air tankers are currently battling the inferno. The province remains in a state of emergency.

Much of the attention is focused on Fort McMurray, where crews continue to stave off encroaching flames from critical infrastructure and homes. On Friday, said Notley, “firefighters in the city kept working to save the downtown and as much of the residential neighbourhoods as possible. We held the line for a second day.”
A photo of a fire crew who had travelled from east of Edmonton to help fight the blaze showed several firefighters sprawled out on a grassy patch in the city, reeling from exhaustion as they savoured their first break in 30 hours. The worn-out team was back at work some 15 minutes later.

Officials said fire crews and air tankers from across Canada are being sent to the area to help relieve exhausted workers.

Even once the blaze is under control, an enormous amount of work remains before the city can be deemed safe and inhabitable, said Notley. “The gas has been turned off, the power grid has been damaged and large portions of the city don’t have power right now. The water is not currently drinkable. There are no stores open, there’s a great deal of hazardous material to be cleaned up.”

The extent of the destruction wreaked by the fire was evident in the haunting images that have emerged of the city, showing a devastated landscape dotted with piles of blackened rubble and the burned out frames of pickup trucks. A thick haze of smoke still hangs overhead.

The tens of thousands of residents currently scattered across Alberta will likely not be able to return to the city anytime soon, said Notley. “I know the people of Fort McMurray want to get back into their homes as quickly as possible. And I am hoping we will be able to give you a sense of when you can go home shortly.”

Unseasonably hot temperatures, extremely dry conditions and winds of up to 43.5mph (70kmh), helped fuel the fire’s remarkable growth to 156,000 hectares – an area more than 15 times the size of Manhattan – up from 10,000 hectares earlier in the week. At least 1,600 homes and buildings have been destroyed by the fire.

While the fire continues to grow in size, winds have shifted its direction northeast, away from the community of Fort McMurray. With an eye on the volatile shifting patterns of the fire, a voluntary evacuation order has been issued for Fort McKay, a First Nations community of some 700 people north of Fort McMurray.

Smoke from fires billows south of Fort McMurray, taken from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter. Photograph: Mcpl Vanputten/AFP/Getty Images
Officials said some 60 vulnerable residents, including seniors and those with respiratory illnesses, have already been evacuated from the community. They said an aircraft was on stand by to help remove the remaining residents from the community.

Cooler temperatures are expected in the coming days, which may aid firefighters in fighting the blaze, said Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention. “It’s still too early to tell what exactly will happen but we are in extreme fire conditions,” he said.

Forecasts show a 30% chance of showers in the area on Sunday. “We need heavy rain for sure, the showers won’t be enough,” said Morrison. “Unless we have a significant rain event of 100mm of rain, we expect to be fighting the fires in the forested areas for months to come.”

Another 40 fires, seven of them considered out of control, continue to burn in other parts of Alberta. “The good news with this system is that other parts of the province will see some rain and that will free up firefighters to assist us here.”

The evacuation has forced as much as half of Canada’s oil sands production capacity offline according to estimates, and is expected to be a blow to a country already limping from the dramatic drop in the price of oil. Officials said they were currently assessing the effect fire on the province’s energy industry and would provide details in the coming days. The Alberta oil sands rank among the world’s largest reserves of oil.

Syncrude, one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic crude oil from the oil sands, said on Saturday it was shutting down its northern mines and upgrade operations and evacuating all personnel from the area, citing concerns about smoke. The company said there was no imminent threat of fire.

The northern flank of the wildfire was expected to reach Suncor Energy’s oilsand site, some 15m (25km) from north of Fort McMurray, on Saturday. The site was expected to be evacuated completely by the end of the day.

Those sites are very resilient to forest fires,” Morrison said. Manned by its own, highly-trained fire crews, the facility is surrounded by wide firebreaks that have been cleared of vegetation.

RCMP said on Saturday they were in the process of going door to door in Fort McMurray to ensure all residents had left the city. Visibility was poor and expected to worsen throughout the day, with the thick blanket of smoke forcing officers on nearby highways to don ventilators.

Visibility at time is less than 30 feet,” said RCMP Inspector Kevin Kunetzki. “I can even tell you personally, driving to my accommodations last night, [I was] barely able to see in front of the car.”

Manitoba wildfire forces evacuations in Ontario

Fire near caddy lake

While all eyes are fixed on the ongoing wildfire crisis in the Fort McMurray, Alta., area, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario are seeing some wildfire evacuations of their own.

The Manitoba government reports a wildfire near Caddy Lake on the border with Ontario is around 700 hectares, while a larger fire east of Beresford Lake on the border is even larger at 13,000 hectares.

Strong winds and dry conditions continue to afflict that region, and on Saturday Manitoba reported an mandatory evacuation order was still in place for the Beresford Lake cottage subdivision.

The Caddy Lake fire, meanwhile, has spread into Ontario, prompting the evacuation of the town of Ingolf. 

The OPP tweeted late Thursday that around 100 people had been evacuated. 
"Everything's fairly tense. You can't see the sky, there's so much smoke," Ingolf resident Cameron McLachlan told CBC.

Manitoba is battling more than 20 forest fires currently, and the fight includes 10 helicopters and nine water bombers.

In Ontario, the number of active wildfires is relatively few, the province has declared a restricted fire zone in much of the northwest, to "reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires."

"The fire hazard is extreme because of unusually dry spring conditions which have resulted in increasing forest fire activity. The long-term weather forecast offers no relief in the form of significant precipitation," a statement from Ontario's natural resources ministry says.

Just how quickly these these fires can spread

3:00 p.m. — Wildfire grew from two hectares to 60 only two hours after it was discovered

Reporting by Emma Graney and Elise Stolte

7 May, 2016
When the wildfire was discovered by fire crews on patrol Sunday afternoon, it was just two hectares in size.
They immediately jumped on the blaze, and within a couple of hours, four air tankers had also been deployed.
Despite their best efforts, by 6 p.m. — just two hours after it was found — it had ballooned to 60 hectares.
Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire said Saturday that just goes to show how hot and dry it has been.
With no rain in the area for the last two months, any fire that starts can grow very quickly and very fast,” he said.
Along with the behemoth consuming the forest around Fort McMurray, 40 other wildfires are burning across Alberta. The good news is the vast majority of those have been brought under control by 1,300 fire fighters and 13 helicopters working around the province.
Morrison said the two most concerning wildfires are a 2,000 ha blaze near Slave Lake and a 44,000 ha fire straddling the B.C. border.
Fort McMurray has been under a mandatory evacuation order since Wednesday, but Premier Rachel Notley said there are still people in the city who aren’t leaving.
The province doesn’t have the power to arrest people or forcibly remove them, Notley said. All she can do is “ask them to leave.” 
Fort McKay, a community north of Fort McMurray, was placed under a voluntary evacuation order Saturday morning as flames continued to grow and move to the northeast. 
Sixty people, mostly seniors or those with respiratory issues, were evacuated Saturday.
Scott Long with emergency management said that decision was made mostly because of the thick smoke.
But it is an isolated community, he said, so there are some concerns that the flames could shift.
As of Saturday morning, the fire had grown to 156,000 hectares and was heading toward the Saskatchewan border. Officials said winds up to 40 kilometres an hour Saturday and warm temperatures mean it could add another 100,000 hectares by the end of the day. 
We need heavy rain – showers won’t be enough,” Morrison said.  “We’re hopeful we’ll get some precipitation here.”
Inside Fort McMurray, fire crews have held the line for a second day, preserving most of the downtown and many homes in residential neighbourhoods.
UPLOADED BY: Carson Jerema ::: EMAIL: cjerema:: PHONE: 780-429-5231 ::: CREDIT: supplied ::: CAPTION: The map shows the fire as of 11 a.m. Saturday. The smaller fire in the northeast corner of the map is expected to join the major fire today and continue growing. There are serious concerns it will reach the Saskatchewan border.

The map shows the fire as of 11 a.m. Saturday. The smaller fire in the northeast corner of the map is expected to join the major fire today and continue growing. There are serious concerns it will reach the Saskatchewan border.SUPPLIED

Fire officials had no update to the estimate of 1,600 buildings lost in Fort McMurray, but they did give an update for Anzac; on Friday, officials said 18 buildings were destroyed. On Saturday, Morrison revised that number to 12. “We’re still assessing to get more information.”
He said the oil sands facility at Long Lake appears to be undamaged but it’s still obscured by smoke.
Notley said 32,000 people have registered with the Red Cross online at She urged all evacuees to register there, even if they have already registered in person at a reception centre. She reiterated that it will be some time before anyone is able to get back in the city. The gas has been turned off and power is down across most of the city.
She thanked other provinces, which continue to send additional air tankers and fire crews. “Let me extend out sincere thanks for your help.”
Syncrude has started a full shut-down of its facility. Suncor started a voluntary evacuation of non-essential personal as the fire burns close. But that facility is resistant to forest fire, Notley said. She said officials are studying the likely impact  of the fires on the oil industry and will have a report by the end of the day Monday.
Emergency officials have already evacuated 12,000 people by air and 7,000 more in convoys down Highway 63, said Notley.
Our goal is to have everyone evacuated to the south by the end of the day today.”

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