FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — For a second day, people who have been taking shelter at oilsands work camps north of Fort McMurray, Alta., will be lining up in their vehicles early this morning for a convoy that will guide them through their badly burned city and out to the south.
The exodus of the last evacuees remaining in the area comes as fire officials predict the sprawling fire could double in size again this weekend.
On Friday, shifting winds appeared to help move the growth of the inferno into a forested area away from the city.
But officials stressed the wildfire that forced 80,000 people from their homes remained out of control and was likely to burn for weeks.
“The city of Fort McMurray is not safe to return to, and this will be true for a significant period of time,” said Premier Rachel Notley.
On Friday, 2,500 cars and 7,500 people were relocated south, most by air. Notley said another 4,000 are scheduled to leave today, conditions permitting.
Fort McMurray residents exit a bus at the evacuation centre at the Edmonton Expo Centre
In all, more than 20,000 displaced residents had been living in oilsands work camps since Tuesday after the blaze cut the main road through Fort McMurray and sent residents fleeing either north or south.
Those who managed to escape south settled in hotels, campgrounds, with friends or at temporary reception centres. About 1,800 were being housed at the Northlands Expo Centre in Edmonton. Others went to Calgary.
They learned the government of Alberta would be giving them $1,250 for each adult _$500 for dependents _ to cover their immediate needs while the Red Cross reported donations for victim relief have crossed the $30 million threshold. The federal government has promised to match those funds.
Evacuees also learned that RCMP caught the first _ and so far only _ looter in Fort McMurray. Mounties said a local man was arrested after they responded to a break and enter call. A police dog was used to track him down.
Then there were the stragglers. Officers admitted Friday they have been finding people in Fort McMurray who did not comply with the mandatory evacuation order.
One was an elderly man who was found in his home, with his dog. Patrols also came across a family of five, including three young children, who didn’t leave because they didn’t think they were in danger.
Mounties escorted them all out of town.
“People need to understand that evacuation orders are issued for a reason, and that not leaving puts them and emergency responders at unnecessary risk,” said RCMP Insp. Gibson Glavin.
Alberta is now under a provincewide fire ban. Notley urged people to stay out of the forests altogether, and the province ordered a ban on recreational use of off-highway vehicles.