Friday and Saturday, Convoys of evacuees stranded by a wildfire raging in and around Ft. McMurray made their way through the heart of the devastation on the only highway out of the region.
Wind-whipped flames roaring through forests and brush parched by a Spring heat wave have engulfed 250,000+ acres in Western Canada’s energy heartland since erupting last Sunday.
The blaze, the largest of 49 wildfires burning across the Province of Alberta, has forced some 90,000 residents to flee, and has threatened 2 Oil Sands production sites south of the city.
At least 10 Oil Sand operators have cut production due to evacuations and other emergency measures that complicated delivery of Black Gold by rail, pipeline and highway.
With winds Friday pushing the fire’s leading edge to the Northeast, away from town and into open forest timber, authorities said the blaze was expected to rapidly expand its footprint even as the threat to populated areas fades.
An official with the Alberta government wildfire unit, told the press in the provincial capital Edmonton the blaze was likely to 2X in size by late Saturday.
The full extent of residential and business property losses in Ft. McMurray, has yet to be determined, but authorities said some 1,600 structures were believed to have been destroyed.
One analyst estimated insurance losses could exceed US$7-B.
With parts of the city still in flames, evacuees in some 1,500 vehicles began making the 30-mile (50-km) trip at 4 a.m. in groups of 50 cars.
Helicopters hovered overhead watching for flames, and police set up emergency fuel stations along the highway to keep the line of cars moving. They headed toward safety south of Ft. McMurray in towns including Lac La Biche, 180 miles away, and Edmonton farther on.
The convoys were halted briefly mid-day due to heavy smoke, but officials said the majority of vehicles had already passed through town by then.
Authorities planned to airlift about 8,000 of the 25,000 evacuees who were initially chased north of Fort McMurray.
About a 33% of Canada’s Oil production has been shut by the conflagration, according to a industry estimate.
Torn apart by Canadian wildfire, families face anxious and very uncertain future
Fortunately, there have been no known casualties from the fire itself, but fatalities were reported earlier this week in at least one car crash among the evacuees.
But the sheer magnitude and intensity of the Ft. McMurray fire has defied all efforts to contain it.
The Alberta government has approved emergency funding for wildfire evacuees and will be giving out US$966 per adult and US$387 per dependent.
This is fire season in North America, always take extreme care when traveling in Fire Danger Zones, your life, and those of others, depend on it.