The number of evacuees from Fort McMurray, Alberta, rose from 80,000 to 88,000 as the fire grew eightfold overnight. Among the outlying communities evacuated on Wednesday May 4 was Fort McMurray First Nation No. 468, whose residents had been warned a day earlier to prepare for the possibility.
In total, 277 people live on the reserve, according to 2013 figures from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. A few hundred more live off the reserve, which is about 45 minutes’ drive southeast of the city of Fort McMurray. On Thursday May 5, the First Nation’s Facebook page entreated members to check in.
“Notice to all band members,” read the posting by council member Byron Bates. “Please let us know where you are. Tell us where you are and how many in your group.”
Just a day earlier, the reserve had opened for evacuees; now they too were being evacuated. The same held true north of the city, as people who had fled to shelter in workers’ quarters at oil sands mining camps had to leave again as the fire, and evacuation order, marched north. Fort McMurray is in the heart of the Alberta oil sands.
The fire ballooned to 85,000 hectares, according to CBC News—that’s 328 square miles, or 210,039 acres. It is large enough to create its own weather system, complete with lightning, CBC News said. Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency.
“Fire conditions remain extreme, with 18 new starts yesterday,” the province said in an emergency bulletin on its website. “A total of 49 wildfires are burning, with seven considered out of control, 12 being held, 23 under control, and seven turned over to the responsible parties.”
Cooler temperatures were being offset by lower humidity and high winds as more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers fought the blazes, the province said, adding that “residents of evacuated areas should not attempt to return home.”
Donations are pouring in, as are offers of shelter; people living in the oil sands region come from all over Canada, and beyond. The governments of both Alberta and Ottawa said they would match Red Cross donations dollar for dollar.
“Health Canada is stockpiling living supplies, cots, blankets and that sort of thing, working in close collaboration with the Red Cross,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told The Globe and Mail. “The good news—if there is good news out of this tragic situation—is obviously so far there do not appear to be any fatalities or indeed any serious injuries.”