Fort McMurray wildfire threat prompts evacuation alert

Wildfire MWF-017 is currently classified as out of control at 1,000 hectares

Alberta residents in the Fort McMurray area are being told to be ready to leave their homes due to the threat of an out-of-control wildfire in the region.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued an evacuation alert at 6:38 p.m. MT for Fort McMurray and Saprae Creek Estates as the MWF-017 wildfire burns nearby.

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The alert states the fire is southwest of Fort McMurray, and smoke could affect visibility on Highway 63 south of the northern Alberta community that was devastated by wildfire in 2016.

Current Alberta wildfire status_May 11

An evacuation order has not been issued at this time. Residents are advised to keep essential items like medications, important documents and emergency kits ready for a quick departure.

Community better prepared than in 2016, say officials

The municipality provided an update on the situation just before 8 p.m.

Wood Buffalo Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz told media the community is more prepared to deal with wildfires compared to 2016.

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Current Western Canada wildfires and wind direction, May 11

"From our experiences, we've continued to recognize that wildfires are the number one hazard in the region. And it's clear our community is prepared and more responsive to that reality," Butz said.

"When you're dealing with ... the powers of Mother Nature and the forces of wildfire, I'll take any advantage I can get," he said when asked whether the burned area from 2016 could play a factor in battling the current blaze.

No imminent danger at this time

Butz said the wind is also favourable as it is pushing the fire away from the community. He also said that neither Fort McMurray nor Saprae Creek were in imminent danger, but the municipality issued the alert out of an abundance of caution.

According to Alberta Wildfire's latest update, the wildfire is currently classified as out of control at 1,000 hectares and is about 16 kilometres away from Fort McMurray. It's located on the south side of the Athabasca River valley and is moving east.

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The update states the fire danger in the area is extreme and fire restriction remains in effect for the Fort McMurray region.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Alberta Wildfire provincial information officer Melissa Story.

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"There is a cold front that's passing through the province, which generated some elevated wind for us today, which made the fire grow," she said.

52 fires burning in Alberta

There are four crews working on the fire with about 40 people on the ground, she said.

Three helicopters and air tankers are currently deployed, with an additional three more night vision helicopters to be deployed overnight.

fort-mcmurray-wildfire-mwf012-from-7-30-pm-on-april-21-2024/Alberta Wildfire via CBC

An aerial image of a wildfire southeast of Fort McMurray that threatened the community of Saprae Creek Estates in April. (Alberta Wildfire)

"Usually overnight, we see more subdued fire behaviour. And we're hoping that the wind speeds will reduce throughout the overnight activity that we can get the opportunity to get in there and hit it with some water."

Residents in Saprae Creek were put on evacuation alert late last month for a separate wildfire.

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There are currently 52 fires burning across Alberta.

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Thumbnail courtesy of Alberta Wildfire via CBC.

The story was originally written by Mrinali Anchan and published by CBC News on Friday, May 10.