Fort McMurray, Alta., is on fire.
The oilsands town (435 km north of Edmonton), which was once trying to solidify Canada’s energy superpower status and has most recently been hit hard by plummeting oil prices, is now tasked with dealing with another disaster. Wildfires, which were creeping dangerously close to residential neighbourhoods on Monday (May 2), made their way into the city the next day and sent people scrambling to get out.
This is the largest fire evacuation in Alberta’s history
Wildfires aren’t uncommon in Alberta, but when these particular fires breached the Athabaskan River (on the city’s border), a mandatory evacuation order was issued to the city’s residents. Officials say close to 53,000 people were forced to flee. (The town’s population is listed as 80,000, but some of those people may only live there part-time, according to the CBC.) Harrowing videos of people trying to drive out of town show the flames rising up on either side of Highway 63, basically the only route into and out of the northern Alberta city. Some were forced to change course as flames jumped the highway. One former city councillor even said it looked apocalyptic, and we have to agree.
Multiple communities have burned to the ground
As residents streamed out, firefighters and volunteers rushed in to fight the flames and then assess the damage. At the time of writing, at least 12 communities within the city have been affected. So far, the most hit residential neighbourhood is Beacon Hill, which has almost been completely levelled. Fire officials are saying at least 80 per cent of homes there have been lost, but a CTV reporter on the ground says they have yet to find any that are still standing. Thankfully there have been no reports of major injury or deaths.
Unfortunately, things are about to get worse
First the good news: Currently, residents are staying put in makeshift evacuation camps that are outside of the city and considered safe zones. Work camps, that are usually used by oilsands workers, are now housing thousands of evacuees. People living in border towns have also generously opened up their homes to those in need and Edmonton welcomed close to 20,000 evacuees Tuesday night (May 3).
Now for the bad news. The town isn’t out of the woods just yet. Fort McMurray is still surrounded by wildfires and firefighters are worried that things are about to get even worse on Wednesday (May 4). Why? They think the strong winds and soaring temperatures (high of 31 degrees!) will fan the flames even more and make them harder to contain if they get back into the city.
The best way to help? Donate money
While it would be nice to donate things such as blankets, water bottles and other items to those affected, we have to keep in mind that for many Canadians, Fort McMurray is a far away place from where they live. Things will take a while to get there and until a call is actually put out for particular items, it’s best to donate financially. The Canadian Red Cross put out an emergency appeal for the Alberta fires and is the most reputable organization to donate to. Its Alberta branch is working with the government to mobilize aid for the city. You can either donate online or call their toll-free number 1-800-418-1111.