Fort McMurray wildfire: 4 neighborhoods ordered to evacuate

Four Fort McMurray neighborhoods were ordered to evacuate on Tuesday as a wildfire gets closer to the city.

Alberta Emergency Alert issued the order for Beacon Hill, Abasand, Prairie Creek and Grayling Terrace just after 2 pm

All residents were asked to leave by 4 pm, according to the alert.

Residents are being asked to go to the reception center in Lac La Biche County.

All evacuees should register online, or call 310-4455 to register over the phone.

As of 8 pm, the fire was nearly 21,000 hectares, burning 7.5 kilometers from the Fort McMurray landfill and six kilometers from the intersection of highways 63 and 881.

At 4:30 pm RCMP announced the temporary closure of Highway 63 northbound between Highway 881 and Saprae Creek Trail to allow for preventative fire measures.

The following areas are under evacuation alert: Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Anzac and Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

“The reason why it’s so important to clear [the neighbourhoods] out is so that we can mobilize our fire resources to fight this fire and defend these neighborhoods,” Jody Butz, director of emergency management for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said. “We are confident that we have the resources to defend these areas, but we need people out of harm’s way.”

Butz urged residents in other parts of the city not to leave the community until residents under the evacuation order had a chance to clear the area.

“It’s important that we approach this in a safe, orderly and respectful manner.”

Images from 511 Alberta on Tuesday afternoon showed bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 63 southbound heading away from the city.

In an update on Tuesday afternoon, officials said the fire was out of control, and had continued to move toward the city on Monday and Tuesday.

Wildfire smoke over Fort McMurray on May 14, 2024 as residents leave the city after an evacuation order was issued. (Credit: Zoran Knezic)

“We’re seeing extreme fire behavior. Smoke columns are developing and the skies are covered in smoke. Firefighters have been pulled from the fire line for safety reasons,” Josee St-Onge of Alberta Wildfire told reporters. “We continue to work on this wildfire with aerial support helicopters and air tankers are dropping water and retardant on the active edges of the fire.”

St-Onge says wind conditions are not favorable, and officials expect the fire to continue moving toward the city until the winds shift.

Officials also acknowledged the trauma many residents are likely experiencing as a result of the fire in 2016 that destroyed thousands of homes.

“I want to recognize the anxiety that this brings, certainly to those residents who were here in 2016, and to those where this is their first experience and have heard the stories,” Butz said.

“It’s very important for me to note that this fire activity is very different than the 2016 Horse River wildfire. We have an abundance of resources. And we are well positioned to respond to this situation.”

Fort McMurray Public and Catholic schools have announced schools in the city are closed for the remainder of the week because of the fire situation.

The City of Edmonton says it has not received a request to assist evacuees.

“Our office of emergency management is prepared to respond to any emergency in the City of Edmonton, and to support our neighboring communities if we receive requests from the AEMA,” spokesperson Lisa Glover wrote in an email to CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon.

‘We’re all together in this’

Some residents who spoke to CTV News Edmonton said they weren’t taking any chances.

James Cardinal was preparing to leave the Timberlea area, northwest and across the river from the neighborhoods under the evacuation order on Tuesday afternoon.

“I believe most of the city is evacuating, especially since what’s happened before with the 2016 fires. Everybody doesn’t want to take the chance again,” he told CTV News Edmonton.

“I was at work there. And we just got the order to evacuate or whatever so we’re just getting ready right now.”

Cardinal says he travels regularly for work, so his bags are already packed. While he’s experienced evacuation orders before, he says it never gets easier.

“It’s pretty scary.”

“The beeping on your phone and then the feeling that comes with it to know that you have to leave your house and just get away from whatever fire it might be.”

Wildfire smoke over Fort McMurray, Alta. on May 14, 2024. (Credit: James Cardinal Jr.)

Farid Andar lives in Beacon Hill and owns the Beacon Hill Food Store.

He said he’s worried about losing his business.

“It’s actually very scary,” he said.

“After the fire I built the business. I worked with it with the heart to make this place running.”

He has the following message for his Fort McMurray neighbors:

“Don’t panic, hopefully everything is going to be OK. Just try to think positive as much as you can.”

“We’re not alone. We’re all together in this.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Matt Woodman and David Ewasuk

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