Last week nearly ninety thousand residents of Alberta, Canada fled as a wildfire consumed their houses. It has destroyed over sixteen hundred buildings, and while it appears to be slowing down, it has already done a lot of damage. The fire began on May 1 and has been burning steadily since that time.
Fort McMurray lies about 270 miles northeast of Edmonton, one of the two large cities in Alberta. It is very close to the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The town has a population of about sixty thousand people and sits on the Athabasca oil sands, making it a large part of the energy industry in Canada.
Many of the refugees from the city fled north, where there are oil camps. However, the oil companies that owned these camps began to evacuate their employees, and the residents of Fort McMurray also had to find a way to leave. Some started driving south, but thousands of people were airlifted out and taken to safety. Some of the refugees that originally left and drove south only went about thirty miles. By May 5 however, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were getting the evacuees onto buses heading almost two hundred miles farther South to Lac La Biche as the fire continued to move towards them.
Approximately 1,500 firefighters from various places in Alberta are helping to try and put the fire out, but as it creeps closer to Saskatchewan, Alberta’s government will need to start working with its neighboring province to put the fire out. As of Sunday night, the blaze was somewhere between nineteen and twenty-five miles from the border.
Not all of the news is bad, however. So far the fire has burned about 398,326 acres, which is actually almost 100,000 acres less than Alberta’s government expected it to burn. In addition, no fatalities have occurred directly from the fire although two people were killed in traffic accidents as they evacuated.
The fire does show signs of slowing down, especially as the area it is in saw a cold front come in on Sunday. While there was no rain (which would have been very helpful to the firefighters), the cold front did bring higher humidity and lower temperatures. There was hope for a rainstorm on Monday morning, but no rain came.
Fort McMurray fire chief Darby Allen put the relief effort into words best, “We are here, and we are strong, and we will keep doing our job.”