May 6, 2016.
The first convoy of 50 vehicles of evacuees is traveling south on Highway 63 from northern points past Fort McMurray this morning.
The Unified Command of the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort McMurray gave the go ahead early this morning and RCMP began escorting the first group of vehicles at 6 a.m. through Fort McMurray. RCMP will stay with the convoy until 20 km south of Fort McMurray. Officials are hoping to move 1,500 vehicles in this manner throughout the day.
Ground evacuation had been planned to begin on Thursday but conditions were deemed not safe.
“The issue … was wild fire was jumping in some areas, but it was primarily smoke, heavy smoke, and we did not want people being overcome as they were going through. So again, safety (is) paramount. We decided to hold it off,” said Scott Long, executive director operations with Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
Alberta Transportation took fuel north last night with an additional fuel station established just south of Fort McMurray. There are three other fuel sites along Highway 63.
Air evacuation did begin yesterday with the aim of 8,000 evacuees to be brought south and distributed between Edmonton and Calgary.
Premier Rachel Notley said air evacuation was done through “tremendous assistance” from industry, which brought in West Jet flights. Air transport evacuees have come primarily from Firebag and Suncor camps as these are the sites with landing strips.
When evacuation of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo began on Tuesday due to raging wild fires, about 25,000 of the 80,000 or so residents made their way north for emergency accommodations at industry work camps and the community of Fort McKay.
Reception centres have been established at Northlands Expo Centre, in Edmonton, and SAIT, in Calgary. Notley says these are temporary accommodations and over the next few days housing options will be sorted out. An overall inventory of available accommodations will be undertaken and further lodging could include university residences as a transitional housing plan is set.
“Those folks who are staying in the reception centres, those are not a long term solution and we need to find people more habitable arrangements pretty quickly,” said Notley.
“We’re also going to be looking at - once things settle down – in terms of what kind of housing stock is available in Fort McMurray as well,” she said.
Notley cautioned that as of yet there was no time frame as to when people would be able to move back home, much less return to the community to collect belongings and assess personal damage.
“Unfortunately we do know it will not be a matter of days,” she said. “It is apparent that the damage to the city of Fort McMurray is extensive.”