Vancouver, May 6 (IANS) A wildfire has emptied Canada’s oil-producing city of Fort McMurray in Alberta province as the government has instructed no one must return until it is safe.
The fire has expanded to 85,000 hectares and has so far razed roughly 1,600 buildings, including homes and businesses deep inside the city limits, Xinhua news agency reported.
Moreover, it has forced the evacuation of an estimated 90,000 people from the northern oil-producing city.
Dramatic videos surfaced on Canadian social media Thursday showing panick escapes by drivers on highways swarmed by fire and black smoke.
Early estimates suggest that as many as 80 percent of homes in one neighbourhood were lost in the fire, with extensive damage in several other neighbourhoods.
The total extent of the destruction is yet to be ascertained as the blaze continues to spread southward on several fronts.
The mandatory evacuation on Wednesday clogged the major highway that feeds into the city from the north and south, forcing roughly 10,000 people into shelters and work camps at points north, while tens of thousands fled to points south.
More than 100 firefighters, 10 helicopters and 16 air tankers were fighting the blaze in forests around the city, with more resources on the way.
Another 200 firefighters and 25 fire trucks were fighting the fire within the city, trying to protect homes and buildings.
By Thursday, changing weather patterns forced the evacuation of the nearby communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation, causing evacuees which had already sheltered in Anzac’s community recreation centre to flee once again.
Fire officials said only colder, wetter weather would put a stop to the blaze, although the forecast called for several more days of dry and warm weather in the region.
In Anzac, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met officials and evacuees. After declaring the fire as a provincial emergency, the premier pledged the government’s support to the victims of the fire.
“The government of Alberta is behind them,” the premier said after touring the evacuation operation.
“We may have a long road ahead of us, but they can count on not only the government, but the people of Alberta, to support them in the ways that we need,” she said. “This is a devastating, devastating, event.”
So far, no deaths have been reported due to the fire.
Speaking in the national capital of Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would match all individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross.
He said the Royal Canadian Air Force would deploy several military aircraft to assist with firefighter transports, the evacuation effort, and delivering aid.
The Alberta government said 18 new wildfires had sparked around the province on Thursday and that 49 wildfires were burning across the province. Seven of those were considered out of control.