Officials provided an update Wednesday morning on the devastating Fort McMurray fires which have caused extensive damage to the community.
Officials also said they expected firefighters to be heavily challenged all day Wednesday due to the soaring temperatures and unpredictable winds.
To this point, about 1,600 buildings in the City are reported to have been destroyed and the fire has spread to about 10,000 hectares. Reports also show that upwards of 80% of the Beacon Hill area have been destroyed.
Later on Tuesday, a mandatory evacuation was put in place for the entire city.
Chad Morrison, a senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention and Enforcement, said he expected things to worsen today.
“The big issue is with the winds gusting west. Firefighters will continue to be challenged all day. We expect the fire behaviour to pick up at about 1 p.m. this afternoon which will challenge firefighters right into the evening.
“We expect the fire to move from the west through to the east,” he said.
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said there has been an outpouring of support across the province to those affected by the fires.
“The number we are using for displaced people is 80,000,” he said. More than 100 patients in the City’s hospital have all been evacuated to other care facilities as well.
“Last night at 3 a.m. a convoy of structural firefighters – 88 firefighters from communities throughout the province – all arrived and immediately went to work inside the community to reinforce key areas. Right now, their efforts remain focused on the downtown core and the area of Gregoire where there is an industrial park and of course the airport as well.”
Premier Rachel Notley said she planned to fly up this morning. She said a state of emergency hadn’t been declared because all the help needed and the authority to get it is available without it at this time.
“We’re not at that point yet but it’s an issue that we keep an eye on,” she said. “At this point the kinds of authority that a state of emergency grants us are authorities that quite frankly we already have.
“We’ll continue to evaluate that as the crisis unfolds. But right now, there is no authority that we need that we don’t have,” she said.
“I also want to begin by thanking the men and women who are working around the clock to fight this fire and to keep people safe,” said Notley.
“We also have heard of the many ways that Albertans are helping Albertans. People are reaching out to provide support and assistance throughout the province.
“At the end of the day we are going to support the people affected by this fire, and people need to know that their government is there for them,” said Notley, adding that the federal government and other provincial governments have been in contact with her to say they are ready to provide help.
“They can be assured their government will stand with them,” she said.
“Roughly 10,000 citizens moved north and we are advised that they have found places in most of the camps north of the city. We thank our industry partners for that support,” she said.
“Throughout the day, emergency social services will be engaging in a more thorough inventory of the state of things for evacuees, in terms of who has found support and where they are and what the levels of support are that they need,” she said.
“We’ve received tremendous support from communities across the province in terms of sending support and personnel along with additional equipment. We are continuing to work very hard to get the fire under control and ultimately to end this crisis.
“But as you’ve heard, this afternoon is going to be a challenge for us.”
Notley said the federal government has promised to provide what is needed as well. She said for Albertans who want to help, the best way to do so is via donations to the Red Cross.
“Our entire focus is on the safety of the people in and around the area.”
Meanwhile, officials with the City of Red Deer have said the City mobilized and ready to provide any support that is needed to the City of Fort McMurray.
“We will fully support our neighbours to the north in the short and long term in any way required,” said City Manager Craig Curtis on Tuesday evening.
“The City specifically offered emergency services and emergency operations support. Five RCMP members are on their way to Fort McMurray immediately.”
The City has been in touch with the Provincial Operations Centre (POC), the Fire Commissionaire’s Office and the Fort McMurray Fire Chief.
“We will do whatever is needed to support Fort McMurray as they deal with this terrible fire,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Fort McMurray.”