Firefighters in Fort McMurray, Alberta were helpless to stop the destruction of one neighborhood. The ravaging of several more as a wall of flames backed by strong, shifting winds raged out of control on Wednesday.
This fire is incredibly complex with dangerous conditions and multiple fronts. The fire is still resisting all efforts of suppression and has destroyed at least 1,600 buildings. Firefighters suppressed all of the building fires in the city by Wednesday morning, but the danger was far from over.
The entire Fort McMurray population was forced to evacuate Tuesday evening. When firefighters realized their suppression efforts were hardly making a dent. Fort McMurray is the leading center for Canada’s oil sands region, and when around 80,000 residents were forced to flee their homes. They jammed the only route out of the city, Highway 63. As the road became congesting, it took drivers over five hours to travel 12 miles north of Fort McMurray to reach the evacuation centers in the oil-sands work camps.
The sound of exploding propane tanks filled the air as the fire reached the city. Residents posted photos to social media showing flames that reach several stories high alongside Highway 63, and some shared the panic that set in as the fire reached across the highway closing the road for several hours. As the fire reached the road, drivers raced down the grassy median and even headed the wrong way on the southbound highway in an attempt to escape the city.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he had pledged the national government’s complete support for the firefighting efforts and aid for evacuees, and shared that local authorities across Canada have offered support as well.
The defense minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters that the military was standing by to offer any assistance needed. Being home to multiple large military bases means that troops, equipment, and aircraft are relatively nearby in case of emergency.
Hundreds of firefighters were in Fort McMurray, but many of them were standing by waiting to get into the action. Helicopters and airplanes poured water and chemical suppressants to the flames, but the aggressive fire and frequent changes in its direction have made it far too dangerous to abolish from the ground.
The evacuation has draining the city of gasoline. Leaving some drivers out of fuel on the highway as they tried to escape the city. New supplies were being brought in from refineries north and south of the town on Wednesday. Police officers were trying to aid the stranded motorists.
Ms. Stewart, the provincial spokeswoman, said that they have yet to determine the immediate cause of the fire. She added that they had an unusually dry and warm winter and spring this year. Withering the forests surrounding the city. This week in Fort McMurray the weather has been unseasonably hot, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Which is rare even at the peak of summer.
Fire and emergency officials said that the shifting winds and increasingly high temperatures could increase the size of the fire. A Professor of Fire Management Systems Laboratory at the University of Toronto stated that large forest fires are impossible to fight effectively in hot, dry conditions. These conditions can cause the flames to shoot out over a mile ahead of their fronts. All that crews can do right now is prepare plans and resources to tackle this fire when the weather changes.