It’s been a devastating day for Fort McMurray.
In a situation update Tuesday night, emergency management officials say explosive fire conditions brought on by extremely high temperatures and low humidity caused fire behaviour that went beyond all efforts to stop it.
The fire has forced tens of thousands to flee as the community of about 80,000 is under a mandatory evacuation order. Officials estimate 17,000 people have gone north, 8000 are in Anzac at a reception centre, 9000 have headed toward Lac la Biche, and 18,000 are going further south to Edmonton.
Some motorists became stranded at the side of the road as they ran out of gas. Officials say fuel is an issue as there is none left in Fort McMurray and Wandering River, and supplies are running low in Lac la Biche.
There are no reports of death or serious injury. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen says a sprained ankle and a skinned knee appear to be the only injuries despite the massive evacuation effort and raging fires. However, the toll to the community appears to be high. Chief Allen says there is no estimate of the properties damaged or lost, but he says the flames have made a serious impact on the townsite.
Darby says he doesn’t have any second thoughts about what could’ve been done to protect the community from the flames.
Officials say the current priorities over the next 12-24 hours will be to protect life and critical ground infrastructure, including the bridge in Fort McMurray that separates north and south across the Athabasca River and Highway 63 which is the community’s lifeline north to camps and south to reception centres as well as Edmonton.
Fire fighters expect Wednesday will bring more of the same conditions that made fire behaviour so challenging Tuesday.