Macleans.ca is receiving regular updates from its writers and photographers on the ground near Fort McMurray, and in Edmonton, while staff monitor developments from our newsrooms in Toronto and Ottawa. Here’s the latest, as of May 8, at 6 pm ET.
How much damage has the fire inflicted?
The fire, which started Sunday, has destroyed at least 1,600 homes and buildings, according to regional officials—most recently a hotel and two other buildings at the Fort McMurray Airport. That estimate may be low, because crews have not yet assessed the scale of damage that occurred overnight. The fire remains out of control, having consumed 161,000 hectares of forest, a marginal increase over yesterday. Oilsands and related installations have been spared—thanks to herculean efforts by fire-fighters. A BMO analyst estimated Thursday that insurance losses could run as high as $9 billion.
Has anyone been hurt or killed?
No fatalities or serious injuries have been directly linked to the fire, or the effort to fight it. However, two people, Emily Ryan, 15; and her cousin Aaron Hodgson, 19, died on May 4 in a collision between an SUV and a tractor-trailer on a secondary route. They had fled the fire, and were travelling together to Lac la Biche, Alta. The circumstances of the crash are under investigation.
How many people have been evacuated from, or fled, the danger zone?
About 90,000. Roughly 88,000 have left Fort McMurray, while an additional 1,500 were ordered out of communities to the south on the night of May 4, including Anzac, the Fort McMurray First Nation and Gregoire Lake Estates. Many people were forced to pick up and flee twice. Syncrude has stopped production and sent all but essential personnel south, while other oilsands firms have done partial or voluntary evacuations.
Where are the evacuees going, and how are they getting there?
The majority appear to be driving or flying south to Edmonton—in some cases via Lac la Biche and other communities. Some 11 reception centres have opened in communities throughout the province, while friends and family of many evacuees are taking them in. So too are Good Samaritans all over Alberta, and beyond. An estimated 25,000 headed north, meanwhile, many to camps oilsands companies had built for workers but opened to evacuees. Still others went to the Fort McKay First Nation, about 60 km north, which opened its halls, lodges and schools. As of Sunday, all of those who went north had been taken south, most to Edmonton, while Fort MacKay itself was evacuated over the weekend.
Where does the fire now pose the greatest threat?
The fire has moved north and east away from the community, and lower temperatures have allowed crews to get an upper hand on it, though it remains out of control. At various times, it has threatened oil facilities run by Nexen and Suncor. Crews have managed to protect the installations, which are designed with fire protection in mind.
What is being done to fight it?
A massive effort led by Alberta Wildfire, a provincial agency, but including crews from Ontario and planes from Quebec. In all, more than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, supported by 15 helicopters, 14 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment. The Canadian Forces have pitching in, sending four search-and-rescue helicopters, a C-130 Hercules plane and 15 specialized military personnel. The military’s contribution is expected to grow.
Who else is helping?
You’ll hear much in the coming days about heroes—of them, there is no shortage. Families throughout Canada have opened their homes to evacuees, or sent clothing and other essentials. Syrian refugees living in Calgary are running a fundraising campaign on Facebook, while Edmonton-area residents have transported fuel up Highway 63 to gas up cars that ran dry on their way south. A Red Cross appeal has raised $30 million (which the federal government has promised to match). Oil companies and related businesses, meanwhile, have spared little expense and effort to assist the community that sustains their workers, providing everything from bulldozers to help fight the fire, to shelter for evacuees.