A Royal Canadian Mountie surveys a ravaged street in Fort McMurray, where more than 80,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. Photo / AP
Canadian officials fear a massive wildfire could double in size by today as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta’s oil sands city.
The wildfire is set to become the costliest ever natural disaster for Canadian insurers. The bill is expected to exceed C$2 billion ($2.27 billion).
Thousands more displaced residents had a sobering drive-by view of their burned out city as convoys continued yesterday.
Police and military will oversee another procession of hundreds of vehicles and the mass airlift of evacuees will also resume.
Almost 20,000 people have been flown out of the area.
More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada
’s oil sands, where the fire has torched 1600 homes and other buildings. The mass evacuation forced as much as a quarter of Canada
’s oil output offline and is expected to badly affect a country already hurt by a dramatic fall in the price of oil.
Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention, said there was a “high potential that the fire could double in size” by the end of Saturday. He expected the fire to expand into a more remote forested area northeast and away from Fort McMurray.The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said yesterday the size of the blaze had grown to 101,000ha, or about 1000sq km. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Extremely dry conditions and 27C was expected today along with strong winds, he said.
Morrison said no amount of resources would put this fire out, and what was needed was significant rain, which had not been seen for two months.
Jim Dunstan was in the convoy of vehicles leaving with his wife, Tracy, and two young sons. “It was shocking to see the damaged cars all burned on the side of the road. It made you feel lucky to get out of there,” he said.
Vehicles gingerly make their way along the highway past the raging wildfire. Photo / AP
All intersections along the convoy route have been blocked off and evacuees are not being allowed back to check on their homes in Fort McMurray. The city is surrounded by wilderness and there are essentially only two roads out.
Fanned by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire is so large that smoke is blanketing parts of the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.
Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for several areas there.
The region has the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.