Fires continue to burn out of control in the Fort McMurray area with convoys moving citizens through the fire zone to safety in the south, officials said during an update Friday morning.
“The fire continues to burn out of control,” said Premier Rachel Notley. “Today, the fire covers over 101,000 hectares and winds continued to blow the fire to the southeast of the city last night.
“The fire reached Anzac, but it remains mostly intact as far as we know, as does Long Lake. The wind is expected to soon shift to come from the southwest, and it will push the fire to the northeast and that will send the fire into the forestry areas away from the community.
“Job one remains to keep people safe. As reported, about 25,000 residents of Fort McMurray took shelter to the north of the city. An estimated 7,000 of these residents were evacuated yesterday by flight.”
Notley said that on Friday, officials were hoping to get about 5,500 more residents out from the north by air.
“We are also hoping to get at least 500 vehicles out by ground,” she said.
“Firefighters have been working bravely, effectively and brutally long days and nights to save the city of Fort McMurray.
“As of this morning, the downtown is largely intact. The hospital is standing, the telephone centre is intact, the water treatment centre is up and running and the airport also remains intact. They’ve also been fighting to save as much of the residential areas as possible,” she said. “They’ve been able to hold the line for the most part in those residential areas.”
She said that on Friday morning, cabinet authorized the province to provide emergency assistance to people who have been displaced. “We will provide $1,250 per adult and $500 per dependant.
“We will provide this assistance to approximately 80,000 people. We hope to deliver these funds to you in the coming days.”
As to the convoy heading south, the Unified Command of the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort McMurray directed the RCMP to begin a southbound planned movement of vehicles and people who had been staged at the north side of the city of Fort McMurray since the state of emergency began.
The RCMP was escorting vehicle packages of 50 vehicles at a time, south through the City on Hwy. 63, a distance of about 20 kms south and then releasing the convoy.
At that point another convoy of 50 cars will begin.
Chad Morrison, a senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention and Enforcement, said, “The fire has passed Anzac, but we don’t know any more details at this point,” he said.
“We did hold the line yesterday at many places in the community,” he said.
“Today, for fire behaviour, we expect the winds to come from the southwest to push it into the northeast away from the community,” he said. “We expect over the next two days with a lot of extreme fire behaviour to come that these fires will continue to move up to the Clearwater River Valley.
“We have not seen rain in this area for the past two months and that’s why this fire will continue to burn for a very long time until we see significant rain.”
Meanwhile, all fire permits are suspended and no new fire permits will be issued.
Across the province, all open fires, including campfires and charcoal briquettes, are prohibited.
The use of incendiary targets is also banned. These targets explode when shot with a firearm and have been known to create fires.
In addition, the province is urging the public to avoid Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) use as much as possible. If they must be used, remove burnable debris from hot spots.
All OHVs in Alberta are required to have a functional muffler and spark arresters.
Portable propane fire pits and gas or propane stoves and barbecues designed for cooking or heating are allowed.
The fire ban applies to Alberta’s Forest Protection Area and all counties, municipal districts and special areas such as provincial parks and recreation areas.
The fire ban does not apply to cities, towns, villages or summer villages or federal lands such as national parks.
The fire ban will remain in place until further notice.