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Fort McMurray wildfire update: May 6, 2016

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contibuting Editor EDMONTON







May 6, 2016.

The wild fire that forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 people from Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation has grown to 101,000 hectares. Yesterday, officials said the fire had claimed 85,000 hectares.

Winds are expected to shift to come from the southwest today and push the fire northeast and away from the community, said Chad Morrison, senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention. It is expected the fire will continue to move into the Clearwater River Valley.

“This is good news for the communities of Anzac and Gregoire Lakes area and the Nexen Long Lake facility as the winds will be pushing the fire away and as well the fire will be pushing away from the community,” said Morrison.
He said priority had been placed on the Parsons Creek, Timberlea and Thickwood neighbourhoods, as well as downtown, the airport and critical infrastructure, and resources would continue to be concentrated in those areas.

“We can be very effective in those key (community) areas but in terms of fighting a large landscape-sized fire out there, that’s going to be the most difficult part,” he said. “As the fire continues to grow rapidly in the forested areas we’re going to continue to be challenged…. Right now we really do need some rain, there’s no question about it. And even once we get rain there’s still going to be a lot of fire out there and a lot of work. We will be here for weeks and weeks to put that fire out.”

He said that “extreme wild fire behaviour” was expected in the forested area in the days to come.

Morrison said no fire break would have stopped the wild fire, which has been “dangerous (and) unpredictable,” from encroaching on Fort McMurray. He said it jumped the Athabasca River, which is over one-kilometre wide.

Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake, who made the trip to Edmonton on Thursday by air from Firebag, north of Fort McMurray, where she and her family had evacuated to, said that in the time leading up to the massive evacuation, the fire had been watched carefully and fully tracked so she would know when it came within 15 km of any residences.

“It just dramatically changed in such short order that the preparation time that we would have appreciated having just didn’t exist,” she said.

Blake said people kept panic at bay in the most terrifying of circumstances and in the end got out safely.

“I think there was a great collective effort in trying to be conscientiously courteous to the people around us,” she said.

While the Canadian military is collaborating with local and provincial authorities, assistance is coming with equipment and transportation of personnel and supplies only at this point, said Brigadier General Wayne Eyre. Ground troops will be engaged to fight the fire if required but at this point they are not needed.