The entire population of the Canadian city of Fort McMurray has been forced to evacuate because of a huge wildfire. Some 88,000 people were told to leave as the blaze swept into the city, which is the gateway to the oil sands region.
Homes, petrol stations and a hotel are among the buildings destroyed in the city, in the province of Alberta. There was gridlock on roads. Many fled north after flames forced the closure of the main road south. No casualties have been reported so far.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called it the “biggest evacuation… in the history of the province”. She said the priority was to get people safely out of the city and find enough spaces in evacuation camps for everybody. Emergency shelters have been set up in oil sands work camps to the north of Fort McMurray.
Fort McMurray describes itself as the “gateway to the north” – a region which is home to the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. It may be remote, but Fort McMurray’s proximity to Canada’s rich oil sands has helped it to become a hugely prosperous place, drawing oil workers from across the world. It is not strictly speaking a city, but such has become Fort McMurray’s importance in the region that it is commonly referred to as one.
Brian Jean, the leader of Alberta’s opposition party, said: “Our hospital is on fire, where my children were born.”My home of the last 10 years and the home I had for 15 years before that are both destroyed,” he added.
Another resident, Carol Christian, who fled with her son and cat said it was an “overwhelming feeling to think that you’ll never see your house again”. She said sitting in traffic was “absolutely horrifying”. “You look up and then watch all the trees candle-topping… up the hills where you live, and you’re thinking: Oh my God. We got out just in time.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tweeted his concerns.
Top image: Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS