Evacuation order issued as wildfire threatens Fort McMurray, Alberta

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Thousands of residents in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo are being evacuated as a wildfire burning southwest of Fort McMurray draws closer. The wildfire, now estimated to be nearly 21,000 hectares, has prompted the municipality to declare a state of local emergency and issue evacuation orders for several neighborhoods, including Beacon Hill, Abasand, Prairie Creek, and Grayling Terrace.

All residents in the evacuation zone were ordered to leave by 4 p.m. MT. Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz stated that the evacuation order affects about 6,000 residents, though the number could be as high as 6,600. Local roads and highways were congested with vehicles as residents fled south, reported CBC.

Community Support and Emergency Response

For those unable to evacuate themselves, designated muster points have been set up, with transit buses available to transport them and their pets to safety. Evacuees are being instructed to register online. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has established an evacuation center at the Cold Lake Agriplex, located at 4608 38th Avenue, in Cold Lake. Additionally, the City of Edmonton’s evacuation center at Clareview Community Recreation Centre is providing food services, clothing, pet daycare, and healthcare, with Red Cross coordinating hotel accommodations.

Fort McMurray residents evacuated as wildfire nears, growing to 21,000 hectares.

Fort McMurray residents evacuated as wildfire nears, growing to 21,000 hectares.

Comparing 2016 and 2024 Wildfires

Officials emphasize that the current wildfire, though extreme, differs from the devastating 2016 wildfire that forced the entire community to flee. Unlike the 2016 crown fire, which moved rapidly through treetops, the current blaze is a ground fire moving more slowly through previously burned areas. This has given crews a better chance to subdue the flames.

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“The fuel that was there, it’s different,” Butz explained. “All the dead and downed trees that were there, that’s what’s being burned right now, along with some dry grass. It’s a surface fire and it’s running along the surface in these extreme conditions.”

Ongoing Threat and Firefighting Efforts

The wildfire, now about 8 kilometers from the landfill on Fort McMurray’s southern outskirts, continues to grow due to shifting winds and rising temperatures. Alberta Wildfire spokesperson Josee St-Onge reported extreme fire behavior, with smoke columns developing and the skies covered in smoke. Firefighters have been pulled from the fire line for safety reasons.

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“Unfortunately, these are not favorable winds for us and the fire will continue to advance towards the town until we see a wind shift,” St-Onge said.

An evacuation alert remains in effect for Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation 468, Anzac, and Rickards Landing Industrial Park. Residents in these areas should be prepared to leave on short notice if the fire risk escalates.

Extreme Weather Conditions and Additional Wildfires

Northern Alberta continues to experience extreme, high-intensity fire conditions, with 50 wildfires burning across the province, including two out-of-control fires threatening Fort McMurray and the County of Grande Prairie. As of Tuesday afternoon, the wildfire was 7.5 kilometers from the Fort McMurray landfill and 6.5 kilometers from the intersection of highways 63 and 881.

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Blackened columns of smoke were visible over the community Monday evening, with the air thick with ash on Tuesday. An air quality advisory is in effect, warning of severely reduced air quality and low visibility.

Looking Ahead and Community Resilience

Officials are hopeful that areas burned in 2016 will act as natural fire breaks. Crews are working on containment lines, with heavy equipment building fire guards and air support dropping water on active fire edges. Currently, 70 firefighters and 14 helicopters are assigned to the wildfire.

Premier Danielle Smith announced compensation for evacuees, with the government providing $1,250 per adult and $500 per child under 18 for those away for at least seven days.

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