The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents.
More than 80,000 residents have been ordered to flee after an earlier order that had applied to almost 30,000 people, mostly on the city's south side, was extended to tens of thousands more as flames continued to make their way into the city Tuesday.
— CHCH News (@CHCHNews) May 4, 2016
Residents were panicked. Highway 63 is the only road out of the city and flames jumped the road.
The wildfire, whipped by unpredictable winds on a day of high temperatures, worsened dramatically in a short time and many residents had little notice to flee.
— Canadian Home Grown (@mary_sexsmith) May 4, 2016
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said the flames had burned a number of structures, but couldn't say how many.
Carol Christian's home was in one of the neighborhoods under the order to leave. She said it was scary as she drove to an evacuation center with her son and cat.
"When you leave ... it's an overwhelming feeling to think that you'll never see your house again," she said, her voice breaking.
"It was absolutely horrifying when we were sitting there in traffic. You look up and then you watch all the trees candle-topping ... up the hills where you live and you're thinking, 'Oh my God. We got out just in time.'"
Largest fire evacuation in Alberta history underway in Fort McMurray https://t.co/zE9OizVePm
— Global National (@GlobalNational) May 4, 2016
The main road into Fort McMurray, was closed at the southern entrance to the city after flames jumped the road. Pictures posted on Twitter showed long lines of traffic and skies darkened by thick smoke as flames licked the edges of roads.
A local radio reporter said a trailer park that had been evacuated on Monday was on fire and flames were advancing toward businesses.
— CBC Calgary (@CBCCalgary) May 3, 2016
"It's chaos on the roads. People are panicking. It's gridlock on the roads. Flames are right next to a gas station," said Carina Van Heerde with radio station KAOS.
— CTV Vancouver (@CTVVancouver) May 4, 2016
Crews had seemed to be making progress controlling the blaze, burning since the weekend, but the situation worsened quickly on Tuesday. By mid-afternoon people from three neighborhoods were told to leave immediately.
Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. The wildfire threat ranged from very high to extreme in different areas.
The Alberta government banned all open fires except in designated camping sites in forested areas due to the threat. There were about 30 fires burning in the province.
— CBC News (@CBCNews) May 4, 2016
The province was calling in more reinforcements to Fort McMurray, including 100 more firefighters and a giant helicopter that can dump more than 2,000 liters (500 gallons) of water at a time.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said officials were doing all they could to ensure everyone's safety and said they were looking into the possibility of an airlift for residents with medical issues.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he spoke with Notley and said the federal government stands ready to help. He urged residents to follow evacuation orders.