Alberta: Fort McMurray fire continues spreading southeast

THIS ARTICLE WILL NO LONGER BE UPDATED. We started a fresh thread on May 16 and will update it as needed.


(UPDATE at 9:41 p.m. MDT, May 9, 2016)

On Monday evening Alberta Wildfire Management updated the size of the huge fire in the Fort McMurray area, now saying it is 204,000 hectares, which is over half a million acres (504,000 acres) and 788 square miles.

The cooler and more humid weather in the forecast for the next few days should give firefighters a better chance to make some progress in slowing the fire down in certain areas. A few locations received some light rain over the last day or two.

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(UPDATED at 3:45 p.m. MDT, May 8, 2016)

Alberta Wildfire Management revised the reported size of the Fort McMurray fire to 161,000 hectares, an increase of 4,000 over this morning’s figure.

The Alberta government has not responded to an offer from Russia to supply ground and aerial resources to assist with the fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ctvnews:

…The offer involves sending converted Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes — the kind occasionally leased by the Canadian military — that can dump as much as “42 tons of fire retardant into fire spots,” according to a statement on the web site of Russia’s Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters.

In addition, Moscow said it has “rescuers and specialists with necessary equipment” ready to help on the ground, if need be…

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(UPDATED at 10 a.m. MDT, May 8, 2016)

The fire at Fort McMurray, Alberta did not grow a much as expected on Saturday. The satellite detections of heat Saturday night showed some expansion on the southeast side but there were no major additions to the footprint. Sunday morning Alberta Wildfire Management is reporting the same size as 24 hours before, 157,000 hectares (387,000 acres). Perhaps they will show a revised figure when they get a chance for a mapping flight.

Map Fort McMurray Fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 10:43 p.m. May 7, 2016.

In the video below Wildfire Manager Chad Morrison gave an update on the fire as of Saturday.

The weather on Sunday could promote more growth of the fire on the east and northeast sides. The high at Fort McMurray will be 65 °F under partly cloudy skies, with 20 percent relative humidity and 18 mph winds out of the west-southwest.

Aerial footage, below, of Fort McMurray looks at the destruction in the Abasand and Beacon Hill neighborhoods.

The Alberta Government will use drones this week to help narrow down the point of origin of the fire. More information is at Fire Aviation.

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(UPDATED at 10:15 a.m. MDT May 7, 2016)

Alberta Wildfire Management reported Saturday morning that the fire near Fort McMurray has burned 157,000 hectares (387,000 acres). That is almost double the size reported Friday morning, but many of those additional hectares were acquired on Thursday. 

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 11:47 p.m. May 6, 2016.

On Friday the fire continued to spread to the southeast and is now on both sides of Highway 881 southwest of Anzac. There was also significant growth north of Fort McMurray on the east side of Highway 63.

The weather on Saturday will be conducive to additional spread of the fire to the east and northeast. The temperature at Fort McMurray will reach 80 °F, with 19 percent relative humidity and west-southwest winds of 6 to 13 mph.

On many recent days the temperature in this area of Alberta has been far higher than average. Historically the average high at Fort McMurray in April is 49 °F, and in May is 63 °F.  On Tuesday the high temperature set a new record, eight degrees above the record high for that date.

On Friday about 1,200 vehicles with residents who had fled north from Fort McMurray and then became stranded were escorted south back down Highway 63 through the fire and the heavily damaged city. They will relocate at least temporarily in emergency shelters or with friends or family far from the fire. Helicopters hovered overhead to watch for flare-ups along the highway, one of which halted the convoy for an hour.

Others are being airlifted out of the fire zone, as were 7,000 on Thursday, according to authorities. About 15,000 people remain stranded north of the devastated city, but not all will leave, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.

The fires in Alberta continue to send smoke into Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the central United States, and many areas in the eastern U.S. To see the most current smoke reports on Wildfire Today, visit the articles tagged “smoke” at http://wildfiretoday.com/tag/smoke/


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(UPDATED at 10:14 a.m. MDT, May 6, 2016)

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 4:45 a.m. May 6, 2016.

The wildfire that destroyed an estimated 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray, Alberta continued spreading toward the southeast on Thursday, burning around the city of Anzac. The fire now stretches over 44 miles (71 km), measured from the northwest side to the present head of the fire to the southeast.

Alberta Wildfire Management reported Friday morning in their daily Situation Report that the fire has blackened 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres).

On Tuesday 25,000 of the 80,000 people that evacuated as the fire reached Fort McMurray decided to go north. Some of them had to since the only alternative, heading south, was already blocked by the fire. The problem was the northern route was a dead end and they were trapped as the uncontrolled fire threatened to move toward their location.

On Friday the evacuees were sent back south through Fort McMurray and the burned areas. They were escorted by helicopters overhead and law enforcement officers on the ground who led the convoy and blocked every turnoff on the road. They did not stop until they passed through the mandatory evacuation zone south of Fort McMurray.

The weather on Friday will likely keep spreading the fire toward the east, pushed by 6 to 11 mph west winds, clear skies, 66 °F, and 15 percent relative humidity. Late Friday night and early Saturday morning the winds will shift to come out of the southeast until 7 a.m. when it will begin blowing out of the southwest, spreading the fire toward the northeast. The weather forecast for the next 10 days includes no rain, except for a 10 percent chance on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday.

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(UPDATED at 10:24 p.m. MDT, May 5, 2016)

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 3:15 p.m. May 5, 2016.

The video below is a 6:05 p.m. May 5 briefing by Premier Notley (starting at about 21 minutes) and after that, fire officials (at 33 minutes).

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(UPDATED at 7:20 a.m. MDT, May 5, 2015)

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 10:51 p.m. May 4, 2016.

The latest map of the fire at Fort McMurray, Alberta shows that in the last 24 to 36 hours most of the additional spread has been southeast of the city. Our very rough calculations estimate that as of 10:51 Wednesday night it had burned approximately 185 square miles (48,000 hectares, 118,000 acres).

With the change in the footprint of the fire, The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported that all Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates residents were evacuated. Hundreds of evacuees who had earlier fled Fort McMurray and who were sheltering in Anzac were moved once again.

Evacuation dash cam
The view from a dash cam as residents evacuated. Screen grab from the video below.

Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency on Wednesday, the second day of the mandatory evacuation of 88,000 Fort McMurray residents. Officials estimate that 1,600 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

Earlier Fort McMurray’s emergency operations evacuated to Nexen’s Long Lake oilsands facility near Anzac and then had to re-evacuate late Wednesday 174 miles (280 km) south to Lac La Biche with other evacuees.

The drivers evacuating in the video below must have been terrified.

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(UPDATED at 4:48 p.m. MDT, May 4, 2016)

Below is an excerpt from a Wednesday morning article at Global News about the wildfire that spread into Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Premier Rachel Notley said roughly 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed or damaged by a wildfire that raged through the city Tuesday night. Mayor Melissa Blake called the fire a “monster.”

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Notley said evacuees who headed north to stay in camps and lodges may have to be evacuated as well. She said depending on the wind, the fire likely will spread into Fort McMurray’s Thickwood and Timberlea neighbourhoods. The airport could also be threatened.

At 12:30 the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort McMurray was evacuated. The EOC was being moved to Long Lake.

As of 10 a.m. the fire was between 7,500 and 10,000 hectares (18,500 and 25,000 acres) in size.

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 12:45 p.m. May 4, 2016.

The map above shows that the wildfire at Fort McMurray is well established on the east side of the city and continues to spread. It jumped the Athabasca River in at least two places where it is 1,100 to 1,400 feet wide.

The video below is from a 10 a.m. briefing this morning by Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen in which he said:

There are certainly areas within the city that have not been burnt, but this fire will look for them, and it will find them, and it will want to take them. Our challenge today is to try and prevent that and prevent any more structure loss.

The weather on Thursday will be a mixed bag for firefighters and residents. A cold front will come through bringing temperatures about 20 degrees cooler. But in the afternoon the west-northwesterly winds will increase to 15 mph with the relative humidity dropping to 15 percent by mid-afternoon.

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(UPDATED at 8:54 a.m. MDT, April 4, 2016)

Numerous homes were destroyed in the greater Fort McMurray area in northern Alberta on Tuesday as the fire that had been burning west of the city was pushed by shifting winds into the populated area. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported Wednesday morning that 80 per cent of the homes in the Beacon Hill community were destroyed. Other areas with serious losses included Abasand, Waterways, and Timberlea.

The weather forecast for Wednesday will not help the plight of the remaining homes. It calls for west or west-southwest winds of 7 to 14 mph, 84 °F, and 19 percent relative humidity.

Below is a map showing heat detected on the fire by a satellite, some of it at 2:20 a.m. on May 4. This map compared with the earlier maps shows the dramatic spread of the fire to the east and northeast.

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 2:20 a.m. May 4, 2016.

The population of Fort McMurray is somewhere between 61,000 and 110,000, with the higher figure accounting for the workers and families who moved there in recent years to take advantage of the oil boom. With all of them under an evacuation order, the roads out of the city were bumper to bumper as residents fled. Some of them did not have enough fuel in their vehicles to get very far and became stranded on the side of the road. Authorities arranged for a  fuel tanker truck to patrol the highways to assist the motorists. Many of the evacuees were headed to Edmonton, Alberta, 438 km to the southwest.

The Edmonton Journal has a riveting video of vehicles evacuating the city as flames and heavy smoke encroach on the roads.

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(UPDATE at 7:20 p.m. MDT, May 3, 2016)

The fire situation at Fort McMurray, Alberta took a serious turn for the worse today. This morning the fire was spreading primarily away from the populated area, but by late this afternoon the wind direction shifted causing it to move into the city.

By 6:30 p.m. all 61,000 residents in Fort McMurray were ordered to evacuate except for MacDonald Island, Saprae Creek and Fort McMurray International Airport.

Below is an excerpt from an article the CBC posted at 6:47 p.m. MDT on Tuesday:

…Late Tuesday afternoon, the fire moved into the downtown core.

Fort McMurray’s only hospital, the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, is being evacuated as flames approach from the Waterways neighbourhood.

The fire is also threatening the Abasand and Grayling Terrace neighbourhoods.

Earlier in the day, the downtown area, and 10 of the 12 neighbourhoods in the oilsands city, were placed under mandatory evacuation orders because of the fire

By 6:30 p.m., the entire city was under a mandatory evacuation order, making it the largest wildfire evacuation in the province’s history, far surpassing the Slave Lake fire that made international headlines five years ago…

Map of Fort McMurray Fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Fort McMurray Fire. The most recent red areas were recorded at 1:50 p.m. May 3, 2016.

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(UPDATE at 7:15 a.m. MDT May 3, 2016)

Map Fort McMurray fire
The map shows heat (the red, brown and yellow dots) detected by a satellite near Fort McMurray, Alberta . The red dots are the most current, observed at 10:26 p.m. MDT May 2, 2016

Below is an excerpt from an article at Fort McMurray Today posted at 7:39 p.m. MDT on Monday:

…The wildfire threatening the southwest edge of Fort McMurray has moved further away, and crews are continuing to fight to keep it that way, municipal and provincial officials said in a press briefing Monday afternoon.

The fire, which Regional Emergency Services is referring to as the “west fire,” has grown to about 1,250 hectares. It is now 1.5 kilometres from the nearest residence.

In a Monday morning press briefing, the fire’s estimated size and disposition was 500 to 750 hectares, but smoke made it difficult for pilots to accurately assess its size. It was burning 1.2 kilometres from city limits.

“It’s been a great day for us,” said Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen, referring to the efforts of fire crews and emergency personnel. “We’re certainly very happy that no one’s had their properties damaged, no one’s been hurt, and we hope that continues.”

There is no sign it is burning towards the city and by Monday afternoon, had started moving away from neighbourhoods. As a result, Mayor Melissa Blake has announced the mandatory evacuation order for Prairie Creek is lifted. A voluntary shelter-in-place order is now covering the area…

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(UPDATE at 3:34 p.m. MDT, May 2, 2016)

The spread of the wildfire moving toward Fort McMurray, Alberta slowed overnight, but stronger winds Monday afternoon caused it to pick up speed again, according to CBC news.

Earlier Monday morning there was some cause for optimism. Below is an excerpt from AM 900 CHML:

The regional fire chief for Wood Buffalo says he’s more encouraged today after a wildfire burning west of Fort McMurray.

Darby Allen says, “Yesterday, we were faced with a large forest fire with a west wind, and nothing in between that and this town. You don’t have to be a fire chief to think that’s a fairly dangerous situation. So we acted accordingly.”

He says that why they evacuated about 700 people from their homes as a precaution from the Centennial Trailer Park and Prairie Creek neighbourhoods. Alberta Forestry’s Bernie Schmidt says they’ve got crews dropping retardant on the fire from the air. “The fire itself is between 500 and 750 hectares in size. It’s very difficult at this time to get a precise size on the fire due to the smoke.”

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(Originally published at 11:41 p.m. May 1, 2016)

A wildfire near Fort McMurray, Alberta forced 500 residents to evacuate Sunday evening.

Below is an excerpt from a CBC article:

…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. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Prairie Creek and Centennial Trailer Park, within the city, and a voluntary order has being encouraged in Gregoire. Prairie Creek has a population of 500 people and Gregoire 4,000. The mayor is currently meeting with emergency operations to prepare a plan…

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

4 thoughts on “Alberta: Fort McMurray fire continues spreading southeast”

  1. Here is a google + GIS wildland fire map centered on Fort McMurray. You can toggle various layers of GIS (Geographical Information System) data on/off. Each time you open the map it will display the most recent data hosted on the GIS servers.

    http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?ll=56.532228,-110.997620&z=9&t=h,Fire_boundary,MODIS_from_ESRI&q=http://www.propertylinemaps.com/p/public_land_map/Canada/Alberta_wildland_fire.txt

    The ‘top’ layer is clickable and will display all the attribute data the GIS server has for the thing that you clicked.

    To get tips for using the map please click “About this map” in the upper left corner.

    The layer “MODIS_from_ESRI” includes an attribute field named “Confidence” that shows the likelihood of fire near that spot expressed as a percentage. Please click “About this map” and read the disclaimers regarding the MODIS data.

    The layer “Fire_boundary” contains a size estimate as of the date and timestamp that are shown. Note that not all areas inside the perimeter actually burned.

    To turn on a UTM grid or USNG/MGRS grid, click Menu ==> UTM – USNG – LatLng.

    This map is displayed by Gmap4 which is an enhanced Google map viewer that I developed. This project is a public service and part of my way to “pay it forward”.
    Gmap4 homepage: http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.html

  2. As of an article yesterday, there was some fire on the north side of Fort McMurray, and the prime minister was going to visit today (Friday). Government was a couple of weeks away from deciding when residents might return. Dozers and other heavy equipment were being used to “guard” various settled areas, and the fire had caused “light impact” to one of the oil sands processing facilities.
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/the-fort-mcmurray-disaster-read-the-latest-wednesday/article29930041/

    and

    http://srd.web.alberta.ca/fort-mcmurray-area-update

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