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Fort Mac neighbourhoods evacuating to escape wildfire

Calmer winds and cooler temps were expected to help wildland firefighters at the Fort Mac wildfire on Wednesday.
Premier Danielle Smith offered her sympathy to evacuating Fort Mac residents during Wednesday’s provincial wildfire update.

Gusty winds contributed greatly to the dramatic increase in size of a wildfire near Fort McMurray to nearly 21,000 hectares, causing it to grow in multiple directions and produce large smoke columns.

By Wednesday morning, the out-of-control wildfire was within approximately 5.5 kilometres from the Fort McMurray landfill and 4.5 kilometres from the intersection of Highway 63 and 881.

Evacuation orders were given for a handful of neighbourhoods to the city’s southeast, putting 6,000 Fort Mac residents on the road for safer land. The rest of the city is on evacuation alert, as are several communities in the area within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

“Our highest priority right now is the wildfire south of Fort McMurray,” said Christie Tucker, Alberta Wildfire information unit manager, during a provincial press conference.

“Night vision helicopters worked overnight to drop water on the fire’s active edges and were supported by firefighters on the ground looking for hotspots. Less than one millimeter of rain fell on the wildfire overnight. Active fire behaviour is expected today but it should be less than what we saw yesterday thanks to cooler temperature and weaker winds.”

She said that Wednesday’s expected high of 13 C should lead to cooler weather and slightly less wildfire activity. That, plus winds expected from the northwest at 10 kilometres an hour, should push the fire away from Fort McMurray and Highway 63.

Crews are working around the clock to keep the blaze at bay.

“Alberta Wildfire and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have entered into unified command, and we are going to be working together to manage this wildfire,” Tucker said.

Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen thanked the Alberta Wildfire team and municipal firefighters for their collaborative efforts.

“They have been working extremely hard to protect Albertans and our communities,” he said.

MWF-017 is only one of 45 wildfires currently burning in Alberta. Another wildfire, GCU-007, is also listed as out of control and estimated to be close to 1,400 hectares in size to the northeast of Grande Prairie.

By Wednesday at 2 p.m., a fire ban will be put in effect in the Fort McMurray and High Level forest areas, plus an off highway vehicle restriction will be implemented for the Fort McMurray forest area.

“This restriction will help us prevent further human-caused wildfires,” Loewen said.

Multiple fire restrictions and advisories remain throughout the rest of the province.

Premier Danielle Smith expressed her and her government’s concern for those who face the most immediate danger in the province’s north.

“As residents rush to leave their homes, I know that this will bring back difficult memories from the devastating fires of 2016. I'm sure these memories will create fear and uncertainty for many in Fort McMurray, and my sympathy is with everyone facing the situation,” she said.

“But safety must remain our top priority. Our government is constantly monitoring the situation and our Emergency Management Cabinet Committee met again yesterday evening to be briefed and to plan. It's important that everyone know that we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep Albertans safe. This evacuation is a stark reminder that our province lives alongside the threat of wildfires and other natural disasters.”

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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