A wildfire in Fort McMurray has forced the evacuation of the entire community, including others areas south of the city. Firefighters are trying to battle the out-of-control blaze, which has already destroyed homes and is threatening infrastructure.
12:30 p.m. — Iveson: “I’m so proud of the work our city is doing”
Reported by Elise Stolte and Paige Parsons
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson got choked up describing his tour of the Northlands reception centre Thursday morning, as city staff expanded their system of cots and showers in a third hall to welcome evacuees.
Insurance agencies are on site, cutting cheques for people on the spot to help them get hotels and personal items. Counselling and medical help with prescriptions is available, as well as an indoor playground, child care and portable showers.
According to the City of Edmonton, the reception centre set up at Northlands now has the capacity to accommodate 2,400 evacuees. There are 1,200 evacuees staying in the facility as of Thursday morning, though a total of 2,600 people have passed through and registered themselves with the centre.
“Cots from the national stockpile are on their way,” said Iveson. “With 6,000 more people coming to Edmonton, we’re going to need all of those supplies.”
“Transit drivers shuttling settling people from the airport and the fire fighters on the ground,” he said, his voice catching and eyes willing with water. “I get a little emotional because I’m so proud of the work that our city is doing actually, our staff and the volunteers, it’s just been phenomenal.”
“After the Slave Lake fire, we learned a lot of things about how to do this,” Iveson said. “We always understood that the scale of these emergencies can be quite large so the city’s preparations have put us in good stead.”
Jordan Ladoucheur (left), from the Kikino Metis Settlement, helps evacuees from Fort McMurray by distributing free gas, food and diapers to evacuees southbound on Highway 63 fleeing an out of control wildfire.
Smoke prompts air quality advisory
Reported by Paige Parsons
Alberta Health Services has issued a precautionary air quality advisory for northern Alberta as a result of conditions caused by wildfires.
The health authority said people with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions should be careful and can reduce exposure to smoky air conditions by minimizing outdoor physical activity in the region, and by remaining indoors with windows, doors, vents and fans closed. AHS said most people don’t have to be concerned about current conditions, but should things become more severe, healthy people may be affected as well.
AHS said the advisory will remain in effect until further notice, that changing weather and wind are expected to create varying conditions.
Updates on air quality advisories can be found at http://www.airquality.alberta.ca.
What next: Evacuees wonder what the future will bring
Reported by Dave Lazzarino
On his 54th birthday, Corey Callaghan was diagnosed with diabetes. On his 55th, last year, he lost his leg to another medical condition. He had hoped May 3 would be better this year for his 56th. It wasn’t.
That day, he was told he may have to evacuate the city. He stuck around an extra day but on May 4 had no choice but to leave everything behind.
“I want to change my birthday to July,” Callaghan joked from his new temporary home at the Bold Centre in Lac La Biche, where more than 1,000 people have come after similar centres had to be evacuated closer to Fort McMurray.
The last he heard, his home wasn’t damaged but he may have to wait a few weeks until he can return to it.
Rodney Anderson wasn’t so lucky.
“I lost everything,” Anderson said.
He said he watched as the fire razed the part of town he has lived in for the past eight years, including the RV park and the Super 8 Motel.
He said he could feel the heat from the fire a few miles away.
Now, he doesn’t know where he’ll go and hasn’t had much sleep in the past few days but he’s found comfort in the support found in Lac La Biche.
“Gotta think positive, somehow,” he said.
Bishop urges churches to collect for wildfire effort
Reported by Kristine Lee
The Diocese of St. Paul in Alberta issued a statement on Thursday calling all parishes to collect extra money at weekend Masses with a second collection for the Fort McMurray fire relief effort.
“In the days and months to come, as we learn of the full extent of the losses and damages,” wrote Bishop Paul Terrio.
“We shall all be called upon to continue and extend the tradition of families helping families and communities reaching out to communities to rebuild and resettle.
Concerns are building regarding whether or not the St. Paul Parish church in the Thickwood area of Fort McMurray has been affected by the raging inferno.
Despite the hardship, Terrio spoke to the miracle that there was no loss of life due to the flames in an “already struggling” city in economic decline.
“Once again, the people of Ft McMurray have rallied together and reached out to help and protect each other,” the statement read. “Really, this in itself, constitutes a major achievement.”
Noon: Losses projected in the billions, say insurance companies
Reported by Gary Lamphier
An analyst at BMO Capital Markets estimates that insured property losses from the Fort McMurray wildfires are likely to be between $2.6 billion and $4.7 billion.
In a report on insurance giant Intact Financial, which has a large number of customers in Fort McMurray and across Alberta, BMO analyst Tom MacKinnon said industry losses could even range as high as $9 billion.
“On a top-down basis, assuming industry losses are in the same magnitude as Slave Lake … and adjusting for the fact that Intact says its market share in Slave Lake was significantly higher than it is in Fort McMurray … we estimate the after-tax loss to Intact would be 58 cents per share,” he wrote.
A police officer wears a mask while controlling a roadblock near a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Thursday, May 5, 2016. An ever-changing, volatile situation is fraying the nerves of residents and officials alike as a massive wildfire continues to bear down on the Fort McMurray area of northern Alberta.
“Such a loss would put industry losses in the $900 million range, slightly higher than the $742 million for Slave Lake, due to higher expected losses per (home),” he added.
“But since Fort McMurray is nearly 10 times the size of Slave Lake, a disaster of the same magnitude impacting nearly all of Fort McMurray (similar in the way that nearly all of Slave Lake was significantly impacted) could potentially lead to $9 billion in insured industry losses.”
Losses of that magnitude would increase Intact’s losses to about 95 cents per share, MacKinnon estimated. But he said a “more reasonable” estimate would put total industry losses at between $2.6 billion
11:45 a.m. — Getting people out of northern camps identified as key priority
Reported by Keith Gerein and Gordon Kent
Emergency officials said at an 11 a.m. provincial wildfire update that one of Thursday’s key missions is to move 25,000 evacuees out of the oilsands camps north of Fort McMurray and into communities to the south.
Premier Rachel Notley stated that operations are focused on getting people in the northern camps “south as quickly as possible.”
A northbound roadblock is seen at Highway 881 and Northlands Drive at the Conklin Corner in Conklin, Alta., on Thursday May 5, 2016.
The initial plan, developed in conjunction with the oilsands companies, is to fly out about 8,000 of the 25,000 people from industry airfields. They hope to get the rest out by road, but first have to make sure it is safe to reopen Highway 63 and move a mobile fueling station north of the Athabasca River so evacuees can gas up and safely drive out of the city towards Edmonton.
Officials say there is still plenty of food, water and supplies in the camps but believe they can provide more supports to evacuees by getting them to communities like Edmonton.
About 2,600 employees and evacuees have been flown to safety from the airfield at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Horizon oilsands plant in the last day.
The company, which has about 850 camp rooms available for evacuees, said Thursday it has suspended non-essential business travel to the site north of Fort McMurray, but regular shift changes continue and current operations remain stable.
Edmonton schools open arms, doors to Fort McMurray students
Reported by Janet French
School districts in and around Edmonton have opened their doors to displaced Fort McMurray students.
Edmonton Catholic Schools, Edmonton Public Schools, Black Gold Regional school division, St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Schools, Elk Island Public Schools, Elk Island Catholic Schools, and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools have all said they’re registering students from Fort McMurray who are ready to return to school.
Three children from Fort McMurray started in Edmonton Catholic Schools Wednesday, spokeswoman Lori Nagy said. One school principal told Nagy when the teacher introduced one young pupil to the class, the tot said, “My world is burning.”
Most districts have said they’re waiving any school fees for Fort McMurray students. Nagy said schools have also been supplying the displaced students with backpacks and school supplies.
They may not stay long in Edmonton schools, and that’s OK, Nagy said.
Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires arrive at the evacuation centre in Edmonton on Thursday, May 5, 2016.
“We may have these students for two days, two weeks, or longer,” she said. “… We’re just trying to provide the least interruption in their education.”
Fort McMurray students don’t have to present all the documents they would usually need to register in Elk Island Catholic Schools, spokeswoman Susan Johnson said. Around 10 families have registered or are registering their children in the district’s schools as of 11 am Thursday.
Students who want to attend one of 200 Edmonton Public schools should contact the school directly, spokeswoman Raquel Maurier said. A “handful” have registered so far, she said.
“We are all Albertans and are in this together. The (superintendent) has reached out to his colleague superintendents in the Fort McMurray area to let them know we are here for them and our resources are their resources,” Maurier wrote in an email.
Families who wish to register their children in an Edmonton Catholic school should call the school of their choice, or call the One World, One Centre for K-9 registrations at 780-944-2001, or Sacred Heart Centre for high school registrations at 780-944-2000.
11:10 a.m.: Archived video of Premier Rachel Notley’s update on fire status
10:40 a.m. – Troops ready to help, waiting to be asked
Reported by Graham Thomson in Wandering River
The Canadian military’s top soldier in Western Canada says he has 350 troops at CFB Edmonton “chomping at the bit” to help out with the Fort McMurray fire.
But Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says soldiers have not been sent north because they have not been asked to by the provincial government.
“Our response is based on what the province asked for and the province asked for air support,” said Eyre in a phone interview. “There has not been an ask for ground troops yet.”
The military has sent two helicopters that have been used to transport first responders such as police officers to locations where they are needed. They also flew overnight using special night surveillance equipment to help provincial officials plot the extent of the fire. One helicopter was also used on Wednesday to fly Premier Rachel Notley over the city so she could see the devastation first-hand.
But, as of Thursday morning, Notley had not asked for ground troops.
Eyre says the public should understand that the decision to send in troops is not up to the military but to provincial officials. And the province has to have exhausted all other options such as getting help from neighbouring provinces and states.
That was the case last year when troops were sent in to help fight forest fires in Saskatchewan when that province was overwhelmed.
Eyre says the military also has large transport aircraft on standby to resupply oilsands work camps that have become makeshift evacuee centres but are running low on food and water. The camps have their own airstrips.
He says it seems at this point Alberta has sufficient capacity to fight the fires without the military but he also says his troops are ready, willing and more than able to help.
“They’re chomping at the bit and will do whatever is needed,” said Eyre. “We’ll put in every troop if necessary.”
Right now, he has 350 on standby.
“As always we are ready to help. It makes us proud to help Canadians at home. We do a lot of missions overseas but helping Canadians at home is mission number 1.”
10:30 a.m. — Boil water advisory still in effect for the Fort McMurray region
Alberta Health Services said Thursday that a boil water advisory is still in effect for the Fort McMurray region, including Anzac, Conklin, Gregoire Lake Provincial Park, Janvier, and nearby work camps that pull water from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Water Treatment Plant. AHS said this a precautionary measure due to conditions created by the wildfire.
Fort McKay is excluded from the advisory.
The health authority also said camps that get water from any provider other than Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo aren’t affected and aren’t under the boil water advisory.
10 a.m. — More than 1,100 firefighters on the McMurray blaze
As of Thursday morning, more than 1,100 firefighters are battling the wildfire in Fort McMurray and the surrounding area, with the aid of 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of equipment and 22 air tankers.
Temperatures are expected to be cooler Thursday, with a high of 16 C, but forecasted low humidity and winds at 25 kilometres per hour, gusting to 40 kilometres per hour, are causing officials concern.
As of 10 a.m., there are 49 wildfires burning in Alberta, and seven are out of control.
Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation and Mackenzie County near High Level. In a release Thursday morning, the Alberta government said it is not safe for evacuees from any of these areas to return to their homes.
9:50 a.m. — Airport still OK, command post returns to site
Emergency personnel headquarters is being moved back to Fire Station 5 on Airport Road in Fort McMurray. In an earlier update, the municipality reported that the fire hall hadn’t been significantly damaged by the blaze, though there was serious damage to other structures on Airport Road.
REOC staff are returning north to the Fire Hall 5 location – updates will resume in approx. 2.5 to 3 hours #ymmfire
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
9:30 a.m. — Those sheltering north of McMurray urged to stay put, Hwy. 63 still closed
Evacuees who are sheltering in place north of Fort McMurray are being advised by officials to stay put. Highway 63 running through Fort McMurray remains closed to the public.
If you're north of Fort McMurray, continue to shelter in place to stay safe #ymmfire
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
Thursday 8:45 a.m.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has released updated information about wildfire damage to Fort McMurray. The municipality is reporting on social media that north Abasand is now on fire and the radio-cell tower is under threat from the blaze. The new airport facility has not been damaged, but there has been serious damage to Old Airport Road structures. There has also been significant damage sustained to the Prospect area, though firefighters were able to prevent it from crossing Confederation. Downtown and Thickwood have no reported damaged, and Fire Hall 5 hasn’t been significantly harmed by the blaze. The status of Anzac and Saprae Creek is unknown.
Wildfire Update – May 5, 8:30 a.m. #ymmfire pic.twitter.com/Y7Cs69YUvH
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
Edmonton public and Catholic school boards, as well as other school divisions in the surrounding area, have released information for evacuees from Fort McMurray who want to register their children in local schools.
#ECSD will be accepting students from #FortMacFire. For K-9 contact 780 944 2001; High school call 780 944 2000 @AlbertaEd @FMCSD
— ECSD (@EdmCathSchools) May 4, 2016
Edmonton Public Schools has advised parents that if interested, they should use the Find a School tool to determine which school is appropriate based on their Edmonton address, and to then contact that school about registration.
Arriving in #YEG from Fort McMurray? Info on registering your child in #EPSB: https://t.co/2T1eZBA3Ql #YMMFire #YMM pic.twitter.com/2k6ARRHOPy
— EPSB News (@EPSBNews) May 4, 2016
Thursday 8:20 a.m.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the federal government will match donations to the Canadian Red Cross to assist in Fort McMurray wildfire relief. A similar pledge was made by the Alberta government on Wednesday.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said Thursday at 8 a.m. that status updates on the wildfire will be provided as soon as information is available.
Back up – will provide status updates as soon as they become available #ymmfire
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
Lac La Biche County is reaching out on social media to ask for help in collecting supplies for evacuee animals that the county is providing shelter for. People are being asked to donate blankets, towels, large kennels, dog bowls and pet food. Donations can be dropped off with the county.
Thursday 7:45 a.m.
Residents of Anzac who had rushed to help Fort McMurray evacuees sheltering in their communities were shocked when late Wednesday night the fire pushed south and they became evacuees themselves.
Debbie Smith, 59, opened her home in Anzac to evacuees from Fort McMurray, never thinking she would become one of them.
“We never thought we’d be evacuated,” she said at a gas station in Conklin midnight Wednesday. Conklin is about 110 kilometres south of Anzac on Highway 881.
“We left all our stuff there,” she said. As she and her husband left Anzac, they could see a “red glow” in the sky. There was ash falling all afternoon, she said.
“We’ll stay here for a few days and see what happens.”
Smith said she’s most concerned about her three-year-old grandson, who lives with her in Anzac. The boy’s father’s house in Fort McMurray is believed to have been destroyed. “He’s saying, ‘Is our house going to burn down too grandma?’” Smith said. “It really affects the kids.”
Adrienne McKellar, 46, said she was going to wait it out in Conklin too. Her husband is essential staff at a Suncor plant just south of Anzac and can’t leave, she said. Her plan was to wait and sleep in her truck until she knew he was safe.
Before she left Anzac, she looked out her window and could see a “wall of fire” on the other side of Gregoire Lake. “It was a glowing red flame,” she said.
She’d been housing seven people from Fort McMurray, but they all left Anzac for Edmonton before she departed Wednesday night.
“It’s been a really surreal experience,” she said.
Thursday 7:00 a.m.
Red Cross Alberta is calling on all evacuees forced out by the wildfire to register with the aid group. People can register by calling the Red Cross at 1-888-350-6070.
If you have evacuated the #YMMFire and have not yet done so, please register by calling toll-free 1-888-350-6070 #ABFire #FortMacFire
— Red Cross Alberta (@RedCrossAB) May 5, 2016
Further updates on the firefighting efforts and damages are expected from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo after 8 a.m.
Thursday 6:40 a.m.
It was 12 C in Fort McMurray at 6:40 a.m., with Environment Canada forecasting a high of 19 C for Thursday and a 30 per cent chance of showers. Winds are expected to pick up later in the morning and to begin blowing northwest, gusting up to 50 kilometres an hour.
Northern Lights School Division has cancelled classes in Lac La Biche, Wandering River and Plamondon because of ongoing traffic congestion caused by the evacuation.
Thursday 6:15 a.m.
A late night evacuation effort was successful, after the wildfire burning within Fort McMurray city limits began to push south.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported that all Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates residents were evacuated. Fort McMurray First Nation was also evacuated. Hundreds of evacuees who had earlier fled Fort McMurray and who were sheltering in Anzac were moved once again.
Good news – All Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates residents successfully evacuated #ymmfire
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
Officials said they were marshalling buses to help with the evacuation, scheduled to begin at 11 p.m. Mounties said they would go door-to-door to alert people.
At 5 a.m. Thursday, Environment Canada issued several air quality advisories because of conditions created by the Fort McMurray blaze.
Residents in all of the following areas are being advised to take precautions, as the smoky conditions can pose a high health risk:
Lac La Biche County near Crow Lake Provincial Park
Lac La Biche County near Wiau Winefred and Grist Lakes
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Fort MacKay and Wallace Creek
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Fort McMurray and Anzac
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Gipsy Lake and Whitemud Falls
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Grand Rapids Wildland Provincial Park
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Janvier South and Conklin
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Mariana Lake
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo near Stony Mountain Provincial Park and Engstrom Lake
Additional help arrived overnight to join in the battle with the wildfire.
Canada Task Force 2, Alberta’s provincial disaster response team, arrived and began offering support in the early hours of Thursday, according to Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo social media.
.@CANTF2 is on scene and providing support #ymmfire
— RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) May 5, 2016
The task force members passed through Edmonton in a convoy of 16 vehicles late Wednesday.
16 Vehicles in @CANTF2 convoy approaching Gateway park, heading east on the henday. Please keep your eyes open #staysafe #yeg #yegtraffic
— Evan Yaceyko (@yaceykoe) May 5, 2016
Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency — a trigger for beefed up federal assistance — on Wednesday, the second day of the mandatory evacuation of 88,000 Fort McMurray residents. An estimated 1,600 destroyed homes and businesses had been destroyed, Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday morning.
The ranks of firefighters and emergency equipment from cities such as Edmonton, along with air support from the Canadian military, multiplied throughout the day.
But the rapidly evolving fire forced the city’s emergency operations centre to evacuate south to Nexen’s Long Lake oilsands facility near Anzac and then pick up again late Wednesday and move 280 kilometres south to Lac La Biche with other evacuees.