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Wildfire near Fort McMurray grows to over 100,000 hectares
CTV Calgary Staff
Published Friday, May 6, 2016 5:23AM MDT
Last Updated Friday, May 6, 2016 6:44PM MDT
Thousands of people who became trapped after fleeing the fires in and around Fort McMurray earlier this week are being moved out of the area to safety by RCMP and air transport.
An evacuation order was issued for Fort McMurray and surrounding communities earlier this week and more than 80,000 people left the area.
About 25,000 evacuees headed north to oilsands camps and some became stranded after several roads in the area were closed. Approximately 7000 were air lifted out on Thursday by WestJet and other carriers.
On Friday, convoys of 50 vehicles at a time were led through the fire zone and were escorted by a National Defence helicopter acting as a fire spotter. The province says it hopes to get at least 500 vehicles to safer locations by the end of the day.
Paul Ross was among the first group to make the trip through Fort McMurray from the work camp and said everyone moved together as a group.
"We stayed there overnight. There was hundreds of us parked at the side of the road. Everyone was sleeping and everyone was really worried we weren't going be able to get through or over the bridge. The smoke was rising everywhere and then the winds shifted and we thought we were going to get a break and we did," he said. "We observed the hotels that had burned down, the trailer parks that had burned down, you could still see some of the flames and the smoke was everywhere."
Officials provided an update on the situation on Friday morning from the Provincial Operations Centre in Edmonton and the premier began by thanking the crews working in the field.
“These have been days to see the work of real heroes, the firefighters who are struggling to contain this fire and save as much of the city as possible, the police officers, the health professionals the DND flyers and personnel, the workers who scrambled to turn work camps into reception centres, the good citizens who got out there to share water, food, fuel, diapers,” said Premier Notley. “Thank you to everyone who are helping these heroes address this disaster.”
The fire has now spread and covers over 100,000 hectares. Officials say it is out of control but they predict winds from the southwest will push it to the northeast away from the Community.
“We expect over the next two days with lots of extreme fire behavior still to come that these fire will continue to move,” said Chad Morrison with AB Wildfire. “This is good news for the communities of Anzac and Gregoire Lake and the Nexen Long Lake facility as the winds will be pushing the fire away as well the fire will be pushing away from the community.”
Officials say the priority is to keep people safe and to protect the communities and infrastructure in Fort McMurray and nearby communities.
"As of this morning, the downtown is largely intact, the hospital is still standing, the telephone centre is intact, the water treatment centre is back up and running, the municipal buildings and the airport also remain intact. Firefighters have also been working to save as much of the residential areas as possible. We've been able to hold the line, for the most part, in those residential areas," said Notley.
The province is providing emergency funds for those affected and will give $1250 per adult and $500 for each dependent to help them in the interim.
“As we did after the Slave Lake fire and the southern Alberta flood, cabinet today, authorized the government to provide emergency financial assistance to people who have been displaced,” said Notley.
More than 1200 firefighters are on scene along with about 110 helicopters, 295 pieces of heavy equipment and over 27 air tankers.
The military is helping out and officials say they will do whatever they can to support the firefighting and evacuation efforts.
“We have four CH146 Griffin helicopters operating out of Conklin who are conducting tasks. We have one 147 Chinook helicopter that’s going to be up in the same location later on this afternoon and this is going to be the first time that new helicopter has been deployed on domestic operations and we’ve got a C130J Hercules transport aircraft, which is to shuttling supplies back and forth,” said Brigadier-General Wayne Eyre.
Officials say there are a total of 40 wildfires burning in the province and an Alberta-wide fire ban remains in place.
Late Friday, provincial officials issued a temporary restriction on off-highway vehicle recreational use on public lands and in provincial parks.
“We do not take this step lightly; however, we must reduce the potential for more wildfires throughout the province. Quite simply, OHV recreational use under our current conditions has the very real potential to contribute to an already catastrophic wildfire season,” said Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks.
The restriction will be in place until further notice and applies to recreational use on public lands, including designated OHV trails, and does not apply to agriculture, public safety or commercial/industrial users who operate OHVs for farming, enforcement or business purposes.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs), four-wheel vehicles, motorcycles and related two-wheel vehicles and amphibious machines are included in the restriction.
Reception centres operating within the province:
- Fort McKay – Fort McKay Business Centre
- Lac La Biche – The Bolt Centre – 8702-91 Avenue
- Edmonton – Northlands Grounds, Hall A – 7515-118 Avenue
- St Paul – Centennial Recreation Centre – 4802-53 Street
- Moose Haven- 1, Janvier *expected to close May 5
- Grasslands – Community Hall, Main Street
- Drayton Valley – Omniplex – 5737-45 Avenue
- Smokey Lake Reception Centre
- SAIT - Residence Tower 151 Dr. Carpenter Circle NW *For Suncor Employees and Evacuees in camps
- Fort Chippewan Reception Centre *For First Nation Band Members only
- Town of Athabasca Reception Centre – Athabasca Multiplex, #2 University Drive
Evacuees who had to leave animals at home can call the following numbers:
- 780-743-7000 Pulse
- 780-788-4200 Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
The Red Cross has set up a call line for the public, for inquiries and to register call 1-888-350-6070.
To make a donation, call 1-800-418-1111 or visit the website HERE.
Click HERE for up-to-the-minute emergency information & contact numbers.
Mental health support is also available by calling Alberta’s 24-hour Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
(With files from CTVNews.ca)