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
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.
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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.”
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
Just how quickly these these fires can spread
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