You are here

Canada PM pledges support as thousands flee monster wildfire

wildfire050516.jpg
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged support for the city of Fort McMurray Wednesday after tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee a monster wildfire sweeping through Alberta's oil sands region.

[MONTREAL] Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged support for the city of Fort McMurray Wednesday after tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee a monster wildfire sweeping through Alberta's oil sands region.

No casualties have been reported from the blaze, which lashed at residences and motor home parks in the area, sparking traffic chaos as people scrambled to safety.

"Obviously, Fort McMurray being evacuated has been extremely difficult, not just for the province and officials, but for the folks who live there," Mr Trudeau said.

The prime minister added he had spoken with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and offered her "our total support as a government to anything needed in the short-term but obviously anything in the long-term."

Alberta emergency services announced shortly before midnight Tuesday that all of Fort McMurray was under a mandatory evacuation order, previously indicating that the northern edge of the inferno was "growing rapidly."

Ms Notley said Wednesday that no casualties had been reported, saying everything possible was being done to ensure the population's safety.

Footage from the area overnight showed trees ablaze near highways bursting with bumper-to-bumper traffic, while black smoke could be seen billowing as the flames ate away at buildings.

Since 8:00 am (1400 GMT) Wednesday, flights to the city of about 100,000 located some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the provincial capital Edmonton, had been temporarily canceled.

Oil companies crucial to the region such as Suncor, Syncrude and Shell reduced operations to facilitate the evacuation of non-essential employees.

The fire, which had been contained until Monday south of Fort McMurray, was pushed toward the city by winds of 50 kilometers per hour and quickly reached homes, helped by a drought in Alberta.

The province saw record temperatures of nearly 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

The fire quickly expanded, with blazes forming in several places and forcing the city's evacuation.

City resident Russell Thomas told CBC television he found a "wall of fire" as he turned back from a gas station that exploded suddenly.

Nine air tankers, a dozen helicopters and some 250 firefighters were battling the flames.

Authorities said the inferno had reached the suburb of Beacon Hill, only five kilometers from downtown Fort McMurray.

80 per cent of the residences there had been destroyed, they said.

Firefighters said houses had been damaged in all Fort McMurray neighborhoods and that numerous empty vehicles near wooded areas had gone up in flames.

A large motor home park had also been destroyed, leaving charred and smoldering remains, according to TV footage.

Authorities urged residents not to try to return to their homes, recalling that the city's evacuation order was still in place.

Local media reported that heavy traffic Wednesday morning on the city's streets was linked to residents trying to retrieve personal items.

Oil companies had set up emergency shelters in their huge bungalow communities for Canadian and foreign workers.

These camps have been partially deserted for the past two years due to the drop in oil prices and the thousands of layoffs that followed.

AFP