As It Happens

Recurring nightmare: Slave Lake's fire chief joins the fight in Fort Mac

Residents of Fort McMurray are watching the place they call home burn to the ground. On Wednesday As It Happens, we spoke to those directly affected by one of the largest wildfires Alberta has ever seen.
Smoke fills the air as people drive on a road in Fort McMurray, Alberta on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in this image provided by radio station CAOS91.1. At least half of the city of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta was under an evacuation notice Tuesday as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents. (CAOS91.1/CP)
Residents of Fort McMurray are watching the place they call home burn to the ground as a large wildfire continues to sweep through the northern Alberta city.

Traffic lines the highway as residents leave Fort McMurray. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The fire had been burning west of the city since Tuesday, but after the fire jumped the Athabasca River it ignited a second small fire and as winds picked up, the situation grew very dire, very quickly.
Cots litter the gym floor at an evacuee reception centre set up and operated by the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo in Alberta. (Mike Allen/CP)

By late Tuesday, mandatory evacuation orders were in place and the highways were jammed with people trying to flee the blaze. Many residents have already lost their homes and others are bracing for further damage as another day of strong winds could fuel the fire. 

By Wednesday afternoon, 88,000 people have fled, as the flames continue to engulf homes, streets, and whole neighbourhoods.

Largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta history


5 years ago
Wildfire rages in Fort McMurray as evacuees settle in Edmonton 3:45

"People can only do what they can do but at the end of the day Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature does and that's it," Jamie Coutts tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "There's really no way to describe how a fire like this changes so many lives all at once."

(Terry Reith/CBC)

Coutts is the fire Chief of Slave Lake, Alberta and says the catastrophic blaze is "eerily similar" to the 2011 disaster that destroyed a third of his community. He is in Fort McMurray and working alongside firefighters to try to contain the fire and ensure the safety of evacuees as winds may pick up.

As It Happens host Carol Off speaks to Slave Lake fire Chief Jamie Coutts as he works to contain the devastating wildfire sweeping across Fort McMurray, Alberta. 6:03

Lesser Slave Lake fire Chief Jamie Coutts is trying to get through one fire season at a time. (CBC)

One of the hardest hit areas was the Abasand neighbourhood in Fort McMurray. Evacuated resident Bill McCrone lives there with his wife and two kids. He says he's almost certain that his home is a lost cause.

"I don't hold a lot of hope that I have a house anymore. There's nothing left. We've been in the car for 24 hours now. And the kids — they're 11 — we try to keep it light with them, but we have to keep it real, too." 
As It Happens | Fort McMurray fire: Bill McCrone, evacuated Fort McMurray resident 6:57

"I just pray to God that everyone got out and took all the warnings," Brian Jean tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "We'll get over it, as long as nobody's hurt and nobody loses their life, we can rebuild."

What remains of Brian Jean's home in Fort McMurray. Jean is the leader of the Wildrose Party, the province's Official Opposition. (WILDROSE PARTY)

Jean is leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party in Alberta. He represents Fort McMurray and says he also lost his home in the fire.
Alberta Wildrose Leader Brian Jean speaks during a press conference at a campaign stop in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Jean spent much of Wednesday at the Emergency Operation Centre in Fort McMurray.

As It Happens | Fort McMurray fire: Brian Jean, Leader of Wildrose Party 5:19

RAW: Fort McMurray destruction

CBC News: Edmonton at 6:00

5 years ago
Daybreak reveals the extent of the wildfire damage 1:20


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