Wildfires ravaging the oil fields around Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada have grown from 29 to over 330 square miles this week, triggering a provincial state of emergency and a mandatory mass-evacuation. Helicopters are taking point to scout routes while rescuers are escorting immense convoys of cars to safety.
The Associated Press is reporting that some 1,600 homes and buildings have already been destroyed by the blaze. Evacuations began earlier this week under the guidance of Canada’s military and police.
Visibility and air quality are poor and deteriorating while more than 80,000 people are being booted from their homes on short notice. From the story:
“That’s why we had the helicopters ... just to make sure the motorists and responders are safe in case there’s a sudden change in fire direction,” said Sgt. John Spaans, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman. “They would be able to notify everyone immediately.”
Their report went on to specify that “police are escorting 50 vehicles at a time, south through the city itself on Highway 63 at a distance of about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south and then releasing the convoy. At that point another convoy of 50 cars will begin.” Responders are also airlifting people out of spots inundated by conflagration.
Fort McMurray is a remote oil town in central Canada with effectively only one road leading out. People were initially fleeing to areas north of the settlement, but have since been directed toward the city of Edmonton to the south.
The mass motorized exodus was supposed to have everyone out of danger by the end of today, but officials are now saying it might be more like another four days of evacuations before they’re satisfied with the margin of safety.
AP says “more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting the fire,” but rescuers have asserted that unseasonably hot weather, dry air and wind will continue to overcome their efforts until the weather changes.
Incredibly, no serious injuries have been reported yet as the fire swells to the size of Calgary, Alberta’s largest city.