A massive wildfire nicknamed “the beast” is expected to skirt the edge of Suncor’s oilsands site north of Fort McMurray later today, and could reach the Saskatchewan border sometime before midnight.
Inside the mostly quiet and all-but abandoned city, police are going house to house, looking for people who may have been unable or unwilling to leave.
In a news conference Saturday, Premier Rachel Notley urged the last few holdouts still lurking in the city to leave at once.
“Please listen carefully to this,” she said. “If you aren’t a police officer, a firefighter or otherwise have a first-responder role in the emergency, you should not be in Fort McMurray.”
More than 500 firefighters are now battling the blaze on many fronts in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters, 16 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment.
Officials expect the fire in the Fort McMurray area to grow bigger on Saturday, and say by the end of the day it could swell to 2,000 square kilometres, an area three times the size of Edmonton or Toronto.
The fire should pose no danger to Suncor’s oilsands facilities, 30 km from Fort McMurray, according to Chad Morrison, the province’s senior wildfire official.
“Those sites are very resilient to forest fires, largely because the sites are cleared and free of vegetation,” he said.
All oilsands facilities in the area are surrounded by wide firebreaks and are protected by their own highly trained fire crews, Morrison said. Syncrude, which is further north, is also shutting down its operations in the area.
Both Suncor and Syncrude have evacuated their facilities as a precautionary measure, said Scott Long with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
The prevailing wind is blowing from the southwest, pushing the fire northeast away from Fort McMurray. The huge fire could reach the Saskatchewan border, 90 kilometres away, by the end of the day and will likely continue long after any danger to communities has passed, perhaps for many months, Morrisons said.
“We expect to add at least (1,000 square kilometres) to this fire today,” he said. “The good news is, it still continues to move away from the community.”
Over the past five days, the fire has destroyed more than 1,600 homes and buildings, forced 80,000 to evacuate the city, and resisted all efforts to to try to wrestle it under control.
SOURCE: CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
The province of Alberta is the biggest producer of oil and natural gas in Canada. Fort McMurray has many oil and gas companies with operations. The province of Saskatchewan where the fire is likely to reach also has many oil and gas deposits as well as many companies exploring there. On Friday May 6, 2016, another wild fire broke out in Fort St. John in British Columbia (which is the province to the left of Alberta) and evacuations are in order. That area also has many oil and gas operations.