Wildfire evacuation order for Fort McMurray to last at least until May 21

As of 8 a.m., the wildfire is nearly 21,000 hectares and 5.5 kilometres from Fort McMurray’s landfill. Thousands of people have fled.

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Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz says people should aim to have evacuation plans at least until May 21, but he does not know when the thousands of people who had to leave Fort McMurray can return home. The thousands of more people who left Fort McMurray but were not in an evacuation area are free to come home.

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“This does not guarantee that you’ll return on that day, but we want to advise you to be evacuated until then,” said Butz at a Wednesday press conference.  “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure those neighborhoods under that order are safe for you to return, but the fire behavior and how the fire moves is going to determine that.”

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About 6,600 people in Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace and Prairie Creek were told to leave Tuesday at 2 p.m. People in those neighbourhoods are eligible for provincial financial relief if the evacuation lasts at least seven days.

Emergency officials do not know how many people have left Fort McMurray. Some people started leaving after an evacuation warning was issued Friday.

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Thousands more people left Tuesday as the memories of the 2016 Horse River Wildfire remain fresh in the minds of many. At one point police restricted access to Highway 63 so people in the four at-risk neighbourhoods could leave.

The wildfire is 20,940 hectares as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. It is 4.5 kilometres from the intersection of highways 63 and 881, and 5.5 kilometres from Fort McMurray’s landfill.

There are 117 firefighters and 21 helicopters attacking the wildfire. Airtankers will fly through the region dropping water and retardant along the fire’s active edges. Heavy equipment operators continue building fire guards between the city and fire.

Sprinkler systems have been deployed along parts of Highway 63, and in the neighbourhoods of Beacon Hill, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation’s Gregoire Lake reserve, Prairie Creek and Rickards Landing Industrial Park. A plan for similar systems is in place for Amoco Road.

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A second wildfire spotted three kilometres north of Parsons Creek is burning out of control and 0.93 hectartes. Two firefighting crews and two helicopters are battling the fire. An airtanker is also being used against the wildfire. Alberta Wildfire says there is no risk to any communities.

“I don’t plan on losing any power to our residents and I also don’t plan on losing any garden sheds. We are very confident in our resources… and we’re ready to to defend our community if needed,” said Butz.

Fire ban for region, Smith says talks about secondary routes likely

The Alberta government has banned off-highway vehicles and campfires on public and private lands in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region. Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen says these precautions are necessary as firefighters battle the wildfire, which has been designated MWF-017.

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“This evacuation is a stark reminder that our province lives alongside the threat of wildfires and other national disasters,” said Premier Danielle Smith at a separate Wednesday morning media conference. “Let me assure you our government will have Albertans back whenever disaster strikes.”

Evacuation centres have opened in Lac La Biche, Cold Lake and Edmonton. Athabasca has not been asked to create an evacuation centre, but county staff and residents are helping in Lac La Biche.

Brian Hall, reeve for Athabasca County, says thousands of Fort McMurray residents flooded gas stations as they drove through the county. There are also Fort McMurray residents staying with family and friends, or in trailers kept at seasonal camping spots.

“Like what always happens in northern Alberta when there’s trouble, people get together and very quickly find solutions to problems in front of them,” said Hall.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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