An aerial view from the helicopter shows smoke rising from raging wildfires which caused the mandatory evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on May 4, 2016. (Reuters photo)
A state of emergency has been declared in Canada’s McMurray as a raging wildfire burned dozens of more buildings and forced the evacuation of the main oil sands city.
The Canadian province of Alberta officially announced the emergency state late on Wednesday after the blaze destroyed at least 1,600 buildings, mostly homes, and forced more than 80,000 residents to flee.
“This fire is absolutely devastating,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “It’s a loss on a scale that is hard for many of us to imagine.”
Alberta’s emergency management officials said the fire had grown from about 1,200 hectares to span more than 10,000 hectares in the past two days.
Nine air tankers, a dozen helicopters and some 250 firefighters were battling the flames. The military was also put on alert.“There are areas of the city that have not been burned, but this fire will look for them, and it will find them, and it will try and take them,” said the chief of a local fire brigade.
City officials warning that the next 24 hours are critical, launching an urgent appeal to the population as firefighters said winds were fanning the flames in various parts of the city.
“Firefighters won’t be able to get a full sense of the scope of the damage until it slows down later tonight,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said on Wednesday.
“Our cabinet is very concerned about making sure that people’s safety and security is ensured and that is what we’ll be working on every possible hour of the day,” she said.
The mass evacuation of the city caused huge traffic jams in the highways especially around gas stations where drivers had to wait for hours to fill their tanks.
The fire which initially started southwest of Fort McMurray on Sunday and spread rapidly to the outskirts of the city has suspended all flights in and out of Fort McMurray.
No casualties have been reported from the blaze.
Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness in the heart of Canada’s oil sands — the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Officials said all personnel at oil sands facilities would be evacuated and the plants would be properly shut to minimize the damage.