Evacuations ordered at Canada city devastated by 2016 wildfire as new blaze nears

Residents of four suburbs in the Alberta city of Fort McMurray have been ordered to leave

Residents of four suburbs in the Canadian city of Fort McMurray have been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire approaches the city, stirring grim reminders of the country’s costliest natural disaster.

Officials in the western province of Alberta issued evacuation orders for the neighbourhoods of Beacon Hill, Abasand, Prairie Creek and Grayling Terrace on Tuesday.

“Due to the approaching wildfire, interfacing communities are being evacuated to allow for fire suppression efforts,” the order said. Residents were advised to take pets, medications, important documents and emergency kits with them.

Officials have been closely monitoring a wildfire southwest of the city that has grown over recent days to cover 9,600 hectares (23,722 acres), aided by arid conditions and strong winds. The huge fire has gradually been approaching Fort McMurray and is now about 13km (eight miles) from the city limits.

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“Our main priority is the protection of life and property,” said Jody Butz, regional fire chief and director of emergency management, in a statement, adding the fire activity is “very different” from the blaze that ripped through the city eight years ago.

“All the dead and downed trees that were there, that’s what’s being burned right now, along with some dry grass,” said Butz.

Images on social media showed heavy traffic leaving the city, with the sky a dark amber hue from thick plumes of smoke.

For residents of Fort McMurray, the evacuation order was a reminder of the huge wildfire that tore through Canada’s oil sands capital in 2016.

“I want to recognise the anxiety that this brings, certainly to those residents that were here in 2016, and to those where this is their first experience and have heard the stories,” said Mr Butz

During that blaze, nearly 90,000 people were forced to evacuate the city, crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic as ash rained down and flames licked the side of the highway.

The fire, dubbed The Beast, obliterated much of the city’s infrastructure, causing more than $9bn (€83bn) in damages.

“We’re seeing extreme fire behaviour. Smoke columns are developing and the skies are covered in smoke. Firefighters have been pulled from the fire line for safety reasons,” Josee St-Onge of Alberta Wildfire told reporters. “We continue to work on this wildfire with aerial support helicopters and air tankers are dropping water and retardant on the active edges of the fire.”

Wind is expected to keep pushing the fire to toward the city, she said.

There are currently more than 50 wildfires burning across the province of Alberta, according to officials, including two out-of-control fires: the one approaching Fort McMurray and another near the community of Grande Prairie.

Other provinces in western Canada are also on edge, and crews are carefully watching a blaze on the edge of Fort Nelson, a town in northern British Columbia. Strong winds are expected to push the fire even closer to the community, with fears it could be overrun in the coming days.

In Manitoba, a massive blaze near Flin Flon has grown quickly, exploding in size from the 35 hectares to 3,000 hectares in a single day.

“I’ve been working in wildfire for 40 years ... I’ve never seen a fire move like this fire moved,” chief conservation officer Earl Simmons of the Manitoba wildfire service told reporters Monday. – Guardian

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