There is an ongoing disaster unfolding in my hometown of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Most long-term POM readers will know that I grew up in the oil sands capital and have a lot of family and friends still in the area.
A massive wildfire started on Sunday and has since spread and entered the city. Large parts of the city have been destroyed and today could be a “more intense burning day” due to high winds and more hot dry weather.
My brother has been attempting to get out of the city all night. Over 80,000 people are evacuating and the one highway south towards Edmonton is slowing moving. Many are stranded on the side of the road as their vehicles ran out of gas.
Hopefully my brother and his family will join us in Edmonton later today, along with tens of thousands more. The arena here is being set up as an evacuation center for those that successfully make the 450 km journey south.
It’s heartbreaking to see my home town burning. The fire spread so fast yesterday that I was planning a work trip north in the morning, as it appeared that the fire was under control and moving away from the city.
By midday the wind direction and speed had picked up and the fire blew back onto Fort McMurray. My brother said that it went from everything being okay to 30 mins later being told to pack up whatever they could and evacuate. Not longer after that the situation worsened dramatically and evacuate became flee.
At one point traffic in the city was gridlocked and nothing was moving. They were ready to backpack it and walk out. Extremely scary situation. This is the largest evacuation in Alberta’s history and could end up being one of the largest disasters in Canada’s history.
The oil sands companies are coming together with the community and providing assistance. Many of the work camps, which can house tens of thousands, have been taking in evacuees. Flights from the mine sites north of Fort McMurray are providing another means of people to get south to Edmonton.
Let’s hope and pray that things don’t get worse today. It’s a strange feeling seeing my hometown burning on international news. Here are some pictures and videos. – JC