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Wildfire continues to burn west of Fort McMurray, forces Centennial Park evacuation

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Wildfire continues to burn west of Fort McMurray, forces Centennial Park evacuation

Fire burns west of Highway 63 and Mackenzie Boulevard on May 1, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

UPDATE 11 (10:00 p.m.)

Firefighting efforts ceased as of 10 p.m. Monday night, with the fire west of Gregoire remaining contained. Winds were blowing in a southwesterly direction at the close of activities, expected to shift southeasterly on Tuesday morning.

Shelter-in-place advisories for Prairie Creek and Gregoire residents remain in place, while Centennial Park is still under a mandatory evacuation order.

Provincial crews will be working overnight with heavy machinery on the ground to dig fire breaks, which will make it more difficult for the flames to travel.

The breaks will extend from the edge of the fire on the west side of Highway 63 to Gregoire on the east side of the highway.

Air operations will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

A second wildfire that has been burning in TaigaNova since Sunday afternoon is mostly extinguished, according to the RMWB.

The 21 firefighters, 12 local and 9 provincial, fighting that blaze will return to the site at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning to check for any hot spots that might remain.

 

UPDATE 10 (6:30 p.m.)

Mayor Blake announced at a press conference that the mandatory evacuation for Prairie Creek has been lifted, with a voluntary evacuation and Stay in Place advisory still in place for the neighbourhood, the same warnings to Gregoire due to air quality. The mandatory evacuation remains in effect for Centennial Park, affecting 200 residents.

Officials say they have succeeded in keeping the fire back from properties in the area, pushing it to 1.5 km from the nearest residence. The fire has burned 1,285 hectares of land.

The fire is expected to hold overnight without dangers of spreading due to relative humidity levels and lighter winds. However, Alberta Wildfire Management’s Bernie Schmitte said tomorrow will be another “difficult” day as the wind is set to shift to come out of the south-east and south-west with temperatures reaching 30°C.

OHV travel on back trails is also being strongly discouraged with barricades and electronic signs, and the mayor is asking people not to light backyard fires in these dry conditions.

UPDATE 9 (3:18 p.m.)

RMWB says there are no changes in the risk level of the fire.

Ash is falling from the sky in several neighbourhoods including Beacon Hill, Gregoire, and Eagle Ridge. Also reports of light outages along Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way.

UPDATE 8 (2:35 p.m.)

R.E.S. Fire Chief Darby Allen says fire is currently moving south-west, away from town. Notes that fire is worsening, and crews are continuing to water-bomb and lay down retardant.

UPDATE 7 (1:22 p.m.)

Next media conference will take place at MacDonald Island Park at 5:30 p.m. Evaluation of evacuation orders expected to be completed by then.

UPDATE 6 (12:00 p.m.)

Mayor Melissa Blake told media that she is considering an outright fire ban to help curb the human-caused elements of forest fires. She also criticized those for throwing their cigarette butts out their car windows, noting that it’s never a good idea, least of all now. The Mayor added that while they have no power to limit OHV use in the region, she wants users to “think really hard about what you’re doing because you don’t want to become part of the problem.”

UPDATE 5 (11:23)

The RMWB and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry is updating the media on the fire situation in Fort McMurray and sent out this map of the south fire and affected areas.

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Regional Emergency Services Chief Darby Allen says they are expecting the worst of the southwest fire around three this afternoon.
Speaking to media at a briefing this morning, Allen says they will re-evaluate the evacuation orders at that time.
Allen says they’ve received a lot of offers of help but no longer are in need of volunteers.
He says so far the fire has consumed abetween 500 and 700 hectares of land, though it’s difficult to know the exact number right now.
Allen says in addition to 28 provincial firefighters, 100 more have been called in. All R.E.S. staff are on-hand as well.
He estimates this is the driest spring in 50 years.

UPDATE 4 (9:13 a.m.):

R.E.S. Fire Chief Darby Allen says fire hasn’t moved much overnight, still 1.2 km from Highway 63 near Airport Road. He says smoke is keeping water bombers on the ground, with only helicopters taking runs at the blaze. He notes that the smoke will lift as temperatures rise, which is good for visibility but could allow the fire to pick up again.

Taiganova fire is still considered under control, with businesses allowed to resume normal operations. Forty members of FMFD remain on scene to handle the hotspots.

UPDATE 3:

From the Fort McMurray Catholic School District: Sparksman school bus pickup in Prairie Creek has been cancelled for this morning.

All other busses will be running. Please check www.myschoolbusmonitor.ca for the latest updates.

All Fort McMurray Catholic Schools are open and operating today.

 

UPDATE 2:

Smoke from the wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray is producing poor air quality and reduced visibilities in some areas.
According to Environment Canada,which issued a special air quality statement, smoke near the ground is expected to cause high health risk conditions.Hot and dry weather conditions are forecasted through this week.
Winds will remain from a westerly direction into Wednesday.
High levels of particulate matter may persist locally until the fire is extinguished or controlled.Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath.
Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.
Those affected are advised to stay inside and keep windows closed.

UPDATE:

Transportation to MacDonald Island Park is still available from the  Shell station at Hwy 63 entrance to Centennial trailer park, Greely Road School front entrance and the Intersection of Airport Road and Arabian Drive.
RCMP continue to monitor the pickup locations – if residents need assistance getting to MI from the drop off locations, the RMWB will get them there.
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A large wildfire continues to burn Monday morning after two blazes erupted Sunday afternoon. One continues just west of Gregoire this hour while another burned earlier near the Taiganova Industrial Park north of Fort McMurray.

The Taiganova fire is considered contained by Alberta Forestry crews, while the Gregoire blaze continues as of 4 a.m. Monday morning.

Mayor Melissa Blake declared a local state of emergency for Gregoire, following a mandatory evacuation order for those in Centennial Trailer Park and south of Airport Road. A “Shelter in Place” has also been issued for areas of Gregoire east of Gregoire Drive and Mackenzie Boulevard, and north of MacKay Crescent and Maclean Road.

There had been initial confusion about the state of the Gregoire evacuation after a press release by the RMWB labeled it as mandatory, but it’s since been corrected to voluntary. Mayor Blake noted that there was a thought the evacuation would be mandatory due to wind direction, which then changed.

“I’m really impressed with the folks I’ve interfaced with down here (at MacDonald Island Park),” Blake said. “And the incredible support that keeps coming from our community as a whole, offering all kinds of support and assistance.”

The RMWB released an update at 3:15 a.m. expressing concern for air quality in the Gregoire area due to smoke.

R.E.S. Fire Chief Darby Allen said at 2:15 a.m. that the fire was 1.2 km from Highway 63 near the junction with Airport Road. He noted that the fire was thinner in the front, but wider than they thought in the back. He added that it didn’t seem to be moving much, with very little wind in the area.

FMFD has set up a perimeter to try and contain the fire, wetting down the trailer park and Highway 63 to help slow the blaze down. Allen added that if the fire gets too hot, they’ll be forced to retreat. Alberta Wildfire crews will not be able to return to action until 7 a.m. with bombers joining the helicopters at 9 a.m.

Evacuees have been sent to MacDonald Island Park, where volunteers are working to help keep people safe and calm. Those wishing to help out can call the volunteer hotline at 780-762-3664.

The RMWB is sending shuttle buses out to different locations to collect evacuees throughout the night.

Keyano College has released a statement that classes at its Syncrude Energy Industrial Campus in Gregoire will be relocated to the main campus downtown on Monday. Greely Road Public School and the Fort McMurray Islamic School will be closed on Monday.

Syncrude also released a statement to employees in the evacuated area informing them that they are not expected to attend work on Monday. Shell Albian followed suit shortly after with the same message. Both want employees to inform their supervisors.

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Mix News will bring you updates on this story as details become available. Follow our Twitter Account for up-to-the-minute updates.

With files from Shauna Mackinnon, Chris Vandenbreekel, and Lauren O’Hare

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