Premier Notley says 1,600 structures burned, future grim in Fort McMurray

No reports of injuries or deaths, but wildfire is still out of control.

All 80

All 80



FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says a wildfire has already torched 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray and is ready to renew its attack in another day of scorching heat and capricious winds.

“There’s been fairly significant destruction of residences,” Notley said at a morning briefing in Edmonton.

There have been no reports of injuries or deaths, but the wildfire is still out of control.

Notley’s officials say the outlook remains grim for the northern oilsands hub city, which was ordered evacuated on Tuesday, forcing 80,000 residents to flee north and south.

Blaze set to move north

Chad Morrison, manager of wildfire prevention, says the 75-square- kilometre fire, which has been chewing up sections of the south and southwest portions of the city, is expected to shift north to hit new neighbourhoods as winds pick up in the hot, dry conditions.

“We expect it be a worse fire day than yesterday, with the big issue being the winds,” said Morrison.

Scott Long with Alberta Emergency Management says crews are doing their best but admitted Wednesday: “It is a possibility that we may lose a large portion of the town.”

Notley said she would be heading to Fort McMurray by mid-day to meet with officials, survey the scene and thank first responders.

She said plans have already started for the time when Fort McMurray begins to rebuild.

“We’ve begun conversations with our federal partners about work that will need to be done with respect to restoration and recovery once the fire is brought under control.”

“We’ll come back some day”

Mayor Melissa Blake said the city has been “fighting an uphill battle for a long time” due to its extreme rate of growth fuelled by oilsands development, so citizens are ready for what lies ahead.

“We will hope to follow in the shadow of Slave Lake in our perseverance and resolve,” Blake said. “And as we look to the future, this is still a place of incredible strength, resiliency and vibrancy.

“We’ll come back some day.”

The wildfire roared into the southwest corner of the city Tuesday afternoon. It engulfed homes in three subdivisions and destroyed vehicles, gas stations and a motel. The Beacon Hill suburb in the south end had the worst damage with about 80 per cent of homes destroyed.

Fort McMurray fire Chief Darby Allen said early Wednesday there were no buildings on fire, but he expected that to change.

“This is a nasty, dirty fire. There are certainly areas of the city that have not been burned, but this fire will look for them and it will find them and it will want to take them,” he told another briefing in Fort McMurray.

Allen said a cold front was expected to move in later in the day, but that could bring with it a new enemy,” lightning.

Robin Smith with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the city, said it was believed everyone was out of the city.

“We don’t have anyone who’s decided to hang around and stay in town. We have RCMP patrols that are regularly looping the neighbourhoods to make sure there’s no one straggling,” said Smith.

A bumper-to-bumper gridlock exodus continued on Highway 63, the main artery south.

“There’s a lot of vehicles on the side of the road,” said RCMP Sgt. John Spaans of Boyle, a small town about two-thirds of the way from the oilsands capital to Edmonton.

“It’s tough to say if these people have broken down and pulled over, run out of gas, or simply parked and camped. But there are a lot of vehicles that are in the ditches, medians, along the shoulders.”

“I literally drove through the flames”

Fire refugees were recounting tales of narrow escapes.

Shawn Brett said he was at home when his friends called him and urging him to leave. Brett said when he opened the door of his house, smoke and flames were all around the neighbourhood, so he jumped on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and made his way through a traffic jam out of the city.

“I didn’t have time for nothing. I literally drove through the flames. I had ashes hitting my face and the heat from the fire was that bad,” he said. “Everything was jammed. It was nothing but the biggest chaos I’d ever seen.”

Notley said about 10,000 evacuees have fled north to stay at oilsands industrial camps, although Smith put that number at 20,000.

Another 35,000 were streaming south to the communities of Anzac, Lac La Biche and Edmonton. Some were going as far as Calgary.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will provide all possible assistance to Alberta. The prime minister said he had already spoken to Notley to offer his government’s “total support.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, in a conference call from Germany, said a formal request for assistance has been received from the Alberta government.

John Cotter, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 20

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Most Read