Accidents & Disasters

Canadian Wildfire Leaves Thousands Stranded

On Thursday, officials warned the 88,000 residents who had fled a wildfire that was ravaging Fort McMurray in Alberta that they would not be able to make a return to the Canadian oil town any time soon even though the inferno was slowly edging south. Fort Murray is the energy heartland of Canada and its entire neighborhoods have been consumed by the blaze, which is out of control. Officials have also warned that the spreading fire has become a threat to two oil sands that are south of the city. Precautionary production shutdowns and cuts have already been forced due to the wildfire at nearly dozen major facilities and this is going to eat into the global supporting oil prices and crude surplus for this week.

In a press briefing late Thursday, Rachel Notley, the Alberta Premier said there was extensive damage to the Fort McMurray community and the city was still unsafe for residents. People stranded on the roadside to the north and on camps are clamoring for answers. She told them that it was not possible for them to speculate when they would be able to make a return, but it would not be any time soon. Three days after Fort McMurray’s residents had been told to leave, firefighters had still been busy trying to keep businesses, homes and other structures safe from the flames.

By Wednesday morning, more than 16,000 structures had been destroyed, which included hundreds of households. No estimate was provided by the officials on Thursday for any additional losses that had happened since then. As the flames are spreading to the southeast, the communities of Gregoire Lake and Anzac Estates that are south of McMurray are under ‘extreme threat’. While the blaze itself has not led to any known casualties, some fatalities had been reported in a car crash that occurred along the evacuation route.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been identified as yet, but the massive conflagration had been unstoppable for the crews due to a combination of low humidity, tinder-dry bush and hot, gushing winds. The fire had erupted on Sunday and from 18,500 acres (7500 hectares) on Wednesday, it increased tenfold to reach 210,000 acres (85,000 hectares) on Thursday. This rea is about 10 times the size of Manhattan. The province had issued a ban on fire for parks and protected areas because of dry weather conditions on Thursday. There was some good news for those stranded north of Fort McMurray.

Officials may start a ground evacuation from the north on Friday morning as the fire is moving southeast and the main highway will be briefly re-opened through the city to allow people to drive south. Thousands who had been stranded to the north were getting increasingly frustrated on Thursday and some had even vented their frustration online and demanded answers. The premier announced a government airlift was going smoothly of those people who had been cut off to the north and about 4000 had been evacuated to the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. 

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