Fort McMurray wildfires force evacuations

Melissa Blake, the mayor of Fort McMurray has declared a "localized state of emergency" for the Gregoire neighbourhood.

Fort McMurray mayor declares 'localized state of emergency' for neighbourhood threatened by wildfire

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      An out of control fire is burning only a few kilometres away from Fort McMurray.

      The Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo, Darby Allen, is warning that the fire may hit the urban area overnight. 

      "One of the problems right now is the wind direction is changing quite erratically. So the wind direction might change and it might go in a different way," Allen said.

      "So right now it may not hit town until tomorrow morning but if it keeps going the way it's going, [the fire] will come."

      Melissa Blake, the mayor of Fort McMurray has declared a "localized state of emergency" for the Gregoire neighbourhood. 

      The Regional Fire Chief of Wood Buffalo Darby Allen is warning that the fire may hit the town overnight. (Chris Vandenbreekel)

      Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Prairie Creek and Centennial Trailer Park, a voluntary evacuation is being encouraged in Gregoire. 

      Prairie Creek has a population of 500 people and Gregoire 4,000.  The evacuation centre is located at MacDonald Island. 

      The fire has burned about 130 hectares.

      Expected to hit Gregoire

      If the fire does hit the city, it is expected to hit the far corner of Gregoire.

      Fighting a wildfire at night is far more dangerous than during the day so the waterbombers will have to stop when there is no light left and the firefighters will have to exit the forest and fight it from the trailer park. 
      The municipality of Wood Buffalo has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the neighbourhood of Gregoire. (Danielle Lamoureux)

      "We will be in firefighting mode within McMurray should the fire hit McMurray," said Allen. "So we have all our stuff in place and ready to go should the fire hit town."

      There are two other fires in the Fort McMurray area but both are under control.

      ​According to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry there are four helicopters and airtankers working to contain the wildfires.

      Cpl. George Cameron with the Wood Buffalo RCMP said people are asked to stay away from the areas.

      "I know people love to watch and see the waterbombers and everything, but if they go up to the area and watch the fire all they're doing is hindering the fire department," he explained.

       'It blotted out the sun'

      Brandon Serroul was staying at the Fort McMurray rehabilitation centre in Gregoire when they were evacuated. He said Alberta Health Services called and told them to evacuate immediately.

      "The supervisors for the program said there was an advisory and we should prepare to evacuate," said Serroul.  

      "Not even fifteen minutes later the smoke just started billowing, it blotted out the sun. Next thing we know we're all just getting in our vehicles. "

      Serroul said that he, and the other people in the program, were able to get a room at a local hotel.

      'Fires don't usually come this close to town'

      Chris Vandenbreekel, a radio station news director, spent a portion of the day on a service road just off highway 63 near TaigaNova business park watching one of the under control fires.

      He said he heard a lot of chainsaws, helicopters and planes and smelled "a lot of smoke."

      Vandenbreekel said the wind is gusting in an eastern direction and is bringing the fire closer to the town.

      "There is a lot of tension, a lot of worry," Vandenbreekel said. "Fires don't usually come this close to town so everyone is watching with bated breath."

      The fires come one day after the forest fire risk level in Fort McMurray was raised from low to very high. Fires also burned in the area on Friday and Saturday.

      With files from Mark Harvey