Canada Wildfire: Nearly 100K Evacuated; Hundreds Of Homes Reduced To Ash

Courtesy Fort McMurray Fire Pictures/Facebook

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, May 4 (UPI) — One of the most dangerous wildfires in Canada’s history continues to grow as firefighters try to figure out how best to battle the flames, which have now forced the evacuation of nearly 100,000 people.

The Fort McMurray fire has destroyed hundreds of structures and has grown at an alarming pace — up from about 8,000 acres Tuesday night to more than 25,000 Wednesday. It is already the largest wildfire in Alberta’s history — and moving up the national ranks fast.

Officials said Wednesday that the blaze has already wiped out about 80 percent of the homes in the Beacon Hill sector of the city. In some parts, what was a beautiful landscape just two days ago has turned into a blackened wasteland.

“This area is not safe to enter,” the provincial government of Alberta said on its website.

“Our hearts are with the families that have had to leave their homes,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a news conference Wednesday. “Our province is strong, and we will get through this.”

Evacuations continued Wednesday, exceeding 80,000 residents in the area. Officials said it is the largest wildfire evacuation in Canadian history. Many evacuees faced additional problems when their vehicles stalled on the roads due to the ingestion of smoke and ash from the blaze, officials said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 2,000 structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed by the wildfire. More than 100 firefighters from across Canada, water tankers and helicopters continue to fight the flames.

The Canadian Armed Forces are standing by, ready to join the fight when requested. The military has authorized three CH-146 Griffon Helicopters and one CC-130J from CFB Edmonton, CFB Cold Lake and CFB Trenton to aid firefighting efforts.

Officials posted fire and evacuation information and loss totals online Wednesday, which painted a bleak picture for residents hoping to return to their homes.

“It’s gone. My house is all gone,” resident Rachel Cusimano, 29, said, on the verge of tears. “I had a minor panic attack when me and my husband were packing … It’s just hitting me now. I don’t know if there’s a city left.

“My heart is just completely broken.”

However, there are still no reports of injuries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the McMurray wildfire “absolutely devastating” and pledged federal resources to aid residents and firefighting efforts.

“We will be there for them,” he said, also encouraging Canadians to help in any way they can, such as donating to the Red Cross.

Making matters worse, weather conditions are offering no help, either. Warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds in northern Alberta are giving the blaze exactly what it needs to keep growing.

One resident, Tyler Burgett, posted a video to Twitter which captured a large explosion on the side of the highway as residents fled.

“The worst of the fire is not over,” Bernie Schmitte, Alberta’s wildfire manager for the Fort McMurray area, said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to be challenged again.”

“This is a nasty, dirty fire,” Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen added. “There are certainly areas within the city that have not been burnt, but this fire will look for them, and it will find them, and it will want to take them.”

“My home of the last 10 years and the home I had for 15 years before that are both destroyed,” Brian Jean, Fort McMurray resident and leader of Alberta’s opposition party, said.


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