8 years ago today, 88,000 Albertans fled due to the Fort McMurray wildfire

On this day in weather history, 88,000 people had to evacuate from their homes due to the Fort McMurray wildfire.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Tuesday, May 3, 2016, more than 88,000 residents of Alberta evacuated their homes. They were chased out by a wildfire that began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta. It's the largest wildfire evacuation in the province's history.

Evacuations.   Courtesy  Michel Chamberland

Evacuations from Fort McMurray. Courtesy of Michel Chamberland

On May 1, a helicopter forestry crew first spotted the fire 15 km from Fort McMurray. First responders arrived at the fire 45 minutes after it was spotted.

The weather conditions were unfortunately primed for a fire to spread. It was unusually hot; a dry air mass over northern Alberta brought record-setting heat to Fort McMurray.

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On May 3, the temperature increased to 32.8 °C. The relative humidity was at 12%. May 4 brought the area heavy winds, with gusts as strong as 72 km/h.

The wildfire swept through Fort McMurray and destroyed approximately 2,400 homes and buildings.

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The evacuees received aid from various governments, the Canadian Red Cross, and other charities.

On May 18, the provincial government announced that residents were able to re-enter Fort McMurray between June 1 and 15, 2016, assuming key conditions were met. But, the neighbourhoods of Waterways, Abasand, and Beacon Hill were not able to return to their homes by that date, as there was contamination from arsenic from the remaining ash.

Between Aug. 31 and Oct. 24, 2016, these communities were given the green light and residents were able to return home.

The wildfire is the costliest disaster in Canadian history, with approximately $9.9 billion worth of damages.

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Night of May 3rd - cars lined up North of Fort McMurray on Hwy_63 / Coutesy Twitter @iMughalMunaf

"Night of May 3rd - cars lined up North of Fort McMurray on Hwy_63." Courtesy of Twitter/iMughalMunaf

To learn more about the day that tens of thousands of Albertans fled the Fort McMurray fire, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Thumbnail: "2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. Large flames and heavy smoke surround congested Highway 63 South." Courtesy of DarrenRD/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0