By Rod Nickel, Liz Hampton, and Jeffrey Hodgson, with additional reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Mary Milliken
7 May 2016

LAC LA BICHE, Alberta, May 7 (Reuters) - A raging Canadian wildfire grew explosively on Saturday as hot, dry winds pushed the blaze across the energy heartland of Alberta and smoke forced the shutdown of a major oil sands project.

The fire that has already prompted the evacuation of 88,000 people from the city of Fort McMurray was on its way to doubling in size on Saturday, the seventh day of what is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in Canada's history.

Police escorted another convoy of evacuees out of the oil sands region north of Fort McMurray, taking them on a harrowing journey through burned out parts of the city and billowing smoke. Some 1,600 structures are believed to have been lost.

With temperatures on Saturday expected to rise as high as 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit), officials said the weather was hindering efforts to fight the wildfire.

"It is a dangerous, unpredictable fire, an absolutely vicious fire that is feeding off of an extremely dry boreal forest," Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a media briefing.

Two RCMP police officers wear gas masks in the smoke from the wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on 6 May 2016. Photo: Mark Blinch / Reuters

The fire had scorched at least 156,000 hectares (385,000 acres) by Saturday morning, the Alberta government said. Officials warned late on Friday that the area affected by the fire, which they then said was 101,000 hectares, could double in size by the end of Saturday.

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers, the Alberta government said.

Within Fort McMurray, visibility is often less than 30 feet (9 meters) due to the smoke, making it still very dangerous to circulate in the city, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Kevin Kunetzki told reporters at a highway checkpoint.

Despite the fire's rapid spread, Goodale said there was no indication that oil infrastructure was at risk.

But the Syncrude oil sands project said Saturday it will shut down its northern Alberta operation and remove all personnel from the site due to smoke. There was no imminent threat from the fire.

At least 10 oil sand operators have cut production due to evacuations and other emergency measures that complicated delivery of petroleum by rail, pipeline and highway.

About half of Canada's oil sands production capacity has been taken offline by the conflagration, according to a Reuters estimate. [more]

Canada wildfire explodes in size, fed by 'extremely' dry forest

By Rachel La Corte and Rob Gillies
7 May 2016

LAC LA BICHE, Alberta (AP) – Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing a growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the massive wildfire in the province covered more than 156,000 hectares (385,476 acres) late Friday and was expected to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds. That size includes burned areas and those areas still in flames.

The fire was 101,000 hectares (249,571 acres) on Friday and officials believed that number could increase two-fold.

"The fire may double in size in the forested areas today. As well they may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control," Notley said. […]

Thousands of displaced residents were getting a sobering drive-by view of some of the burned-out neighborhoods as convoys continued Saturday. The images were largely ones of devastation — scorched trucks, charred homes and telephone poles, burned out from the bottom up, hanging in the wires like little wooden crosses. No deaths or injuries were reported.

Notley said about 12,000 evacuees have been airlifted from oil sands mine air fields over the past two days and about 7,000 have been evacuated in police escorted highway convoys. She said the goal was to complete the evacuation of evacuees from northern work camps by late Saturday.

Aerial view of smoke rising near highway 63 south of Fort McMurray, taken from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter on 5 May 2016. Photo: MCpl VanPutten / Department of National Defence in Canada / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Notley's comments came as officials said the fire could burn to the edges of the Suncor oil sands facility, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Fort McMurray. Non-essential staff have been evacuating and efforts to protect the site were under way.

"This facility it should be emphasized is highly resilient to forest fires as we have seen in past when it's previously been threatened by very large fires," Notley said.

Oil sands mines are resilient to fires because they are cleared and have no vegetation, said Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire. […]

"This is a highly dangerous situation," Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. He said the fire is feeding off the "extremely dry" boreal forest. […]

Philip Wylie, wife Suda and 13-month-old daughter Phaedra, were among those staying at the center after evacuating their apartment in Fort McMurray on Tuesday.

"Trees were blowing up against our vehicles," Philip Wylie said of the caravan drive out of town. "We don't know what we're going to go back to, or when we can go back."

Suda Wylie said the day they had evacuated started out clear, and they thought they would be fine. Then, in a matter of hours, she said she opened the blinds and "the sky was orange." […]

Fanned by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometers (29 square miles) Tuesday to 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that — at 850 square kilometers (330 square miles). That's an area roughly the size of Calgary, Alberta's largest city. [more]

Officials hope to complete Alberta wildfire evacuation

By Emily Shapiro
6 May 2016

(ABC News) – As intense wildfires decimate the landscape in the Fort McMurray area of Alberta, Canada, forcing more than 80,000 to evacuate, one family captured their heartbreaking evacuation on video.

"Oh my god, Steve, our house is gonna burn down," Erica Decker says through sobs on the video she later uploaded to Facebook.

"Is mom out?" Decker asks.

"Yes, she's gone. She left," says Steven Pearce.

Canadian broadcaster CBC reported that Decker took the video as she and her family fled Fort McMurray on Tuesday evening. Decker, her husband, young daughter and 3 cats are now safe in Edmonton, according to CBC.

"We lost everything. We barely got out," she told CBC News. [more]

Family Fleeing Raging Canada Wildfires Captures Dramatic Escape on Video

By Cassandra Vinograd and Corky Siemaszko
6 May 2016

(NBC News) – The thousands who fled north from the Canadian city of Fort McMurray to escape the raging wildfires were on the move again Friday after the winds changed direction and began pushing the blazes in their direction.

A long convoy of cars and trucks carrying more 15,000 people and escorted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police snaked through the outskirts of the remote city to get away from an inferno that has now charred 390 square miles of territory and devoured more than 1,600 structures.

"As of this morning, the downtown is largely standing, the hospital is still standing, the telephone center is intact, the water treatment center is back up and running," said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. "We've been able to hold the line, for the most part, in the residential areas."

But in other parts of town, said Notley, "damage is extensive and will take many months to repair."

"Firefighters are struggling to contain this fire and save as much of the city as possible," she said.

Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake was among those who had to evacuate for a second time. She said so far every resident of the city (pop. 61,374) had been accounted for.  [more]

Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Grows, Firefighters Hope for Rain

By Elisha Fieldstadt
7 May 2016

(NBC News) – Thousands of evacuees who fled from their homes as a massive wildfire ravaged the Canadian city of Fort McMurray this week were being moved again Saturday — as the blaze grew explosively

More than 25,000 of the 88,000 people who were forced from their neighborhoods as the flames flared uncontrollably had to be relocated, officials said. Many got a heartbreaking view of burned-out Fort McMurray as they were being transported from evacuation camps in the north — where the inferno appeared to be inching closer toward — to the south.

"If that fire should suddenly take a veer to the northwest, the people in those camps could be cut off and stranded," said Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. "If it continues to grow at present pace, it could double today," Goodale said early Saturday.

Officials couldn't predict when the flames burning in residential areas would be under control, but Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager of wildfire prevention, said the blaze scorching the forest would likely be burning for "a number of months."

"We expect to be out fighting in the forest areas for months to come," he said.

By midday, the blaze had grown to more than 600 square miles, up from 390 square miles Friday, according to the Alberta provincial government. The fire could exceed 1,000 square miles Saturday as hot, dry conditions continued to stoke the flames, Morrison said. […]

"All of the firefighters who have assessed this inferno have suggested only one solution to this — and that's a heavy downpour," Goodale said. [more]

Fort McMurray Wildfire: Evacuees Relocated as 'Absolutely Vicious Fire' Burns Uncontrollably


  1. kevonz1 said...

    This is an excellent round up of a growing phenomenon of raging wild fires unleashed on the planet converting carbon sinks into carbon emitters that will never sequester carbon again.
    It is important to note that we are at 1.5 C approximately above the 1870 baseline as we track to and beyond the IPCC worst case scenario of 6C.
    I believe there will be neither trees no humans on the planet after about 4C  


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