The largest evacuation in the history of the Canadian province of Alberta, affecting about 61,000 people, was under way Tuesday night as an out-of-control wildfire raged after having doubled to 10,000 square miles in just 24 hours, officials said. Authorities said the fire entered Fort McMurray, a city of 61,000 people about 270 miles northeast of Edmonton by Tuesday night and was still burning. There were no deaths or serious injuries, but approximately 53,000 people had been evacuated from the area as of late Tuesday night, officials said.
“Homes are on fire as we speak. We have fire burning within the city,” Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen told reporters on a conference call late Tuesday.
“Homes are on fire as we speak. We have fire burning within the city,” Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen told reporters on a conference call late Tuesday. “We’ve had a devastating day/”
Firefighters from across Canada were being mobilized to aid in the fight, he said.
Around 150 firefighters were battling the blaze Tuesday and 70 to 80 more were on the way. Help from the army and air force has been requested and is about two days out, Allen said.
“I know that it’s a very scary time,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said at a news conference late Tuesday afternoon. “I know it’s a very, very stressful time for people to have to leave their homes under these conditions.” Allen said the dangerous conditions that fueled the fire — high temperatures, low humidity and high winds — are expected to continue Wednesday. “The worst of the fire is not over,” he said.
Reid Fiest, a reporter for Global National News, was live on air when the flames quickly escalated. The Municipality of Wood Buffalo ordered evacuations of the entire city at 6:20 p.m. (8:20 p.m. ET).
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that an undetermined number of homes had been destroyed and that Highway 63 was gridlocked as thousands of vehicles flooded the main road south out of the city. The highway was later reopened, Allen said.
Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, the region’s main hospital, said Tuesday night that all 105 patients, 73 of them in acute care units, were safely evacuated and were being transported to other facilities. Meanwhile, about 20 arrivals and departures were canceled at Fort McMurray International Airport, the airport said.