The Fort McMurray Fire Has Grown 40 Percent in Two Days

Raging wildfires are once again threatening the Albertan city, and have now forced the evacuation of oil sands facilities and worker camps in the region.
May 17, 2016, 9:15pm
The Fort McMurray fire on May 7. (Photo by Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

VICE News has been following the wildfires plaguing northern Alberta. Check out more of that coverage here.

Raging wildfires are once again threatening Fort McMurray, Alberta and have now forced the evacuation of oil sands facilities and worker camps in the region, moving in places at around 100 feet per minute. The latest rounds of evacuations come just two weeks after the wildfires forced nearly 90,000 people to flee the city — and a couple days of cooler weather provided a brief respite for the hundreds of firefighters trying to keep the blaze at bay.


About 8,000 workers are affected by the new evacuation orders, issued late on Monday, as the wildfire grew to its biggest scale yet, a whopping 354,000 hectares. On Sunday evening, it was 251,000 hectares.

Another 6,000 workers had to stay north of the city, where 19 oil facilities and camps were forced to evacuate, including those providing lodging for Suncor and Syncrude. Many of these workers had gradually trickled back into the area over the last week to help restart production.

On Monday night, a house inside Fort McMurray exploded, also damaging seven more homes, added to the 2,400 other structures in the city that have been destroyed already from the fires. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said at a press conference Tuesday that this incident is precisely why residents are still unable to return home.

"We have to make sure that these and other hazards are addressed," she said.

Then on Tuesday morning, fire engulfed and decimated 665 units at the Blacksand Executive Lodge, which housed oil workers for a nearby facility.

It is expected to reach the Saskatchewan border at some point on Tuesday.

The turn has stalled recovery efforts, placed a plan for retail to resume in the city on hold and forced 400 workers who had arrived in Fort McMurray to prepare the hospital for operation to flee.

Notley noted a few rays of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy picture, virtually all 19,000 structures in the city limits had been inspected and 89 percent have been deemed safe to occupy — slightly more than had previously been estimated. Another 10 percent have been destroyed and the remaining 1 percent require further inspection.

"The community is mostly in tact notwithstanding significant losses in parts of the city," she said. But officials are now taking a second look at reentry plans. "Safety will be and must be our first and principled priority."

On Tuesday, the Conference Board of Canada, an economic research group, said it estimates the wildfires will cost the oil sands industry roughly $1 billion in lost production over the last two weeks and could slash one percentage point off of Alberta's economic growth next quarter. It comes as the province was already suffering from mass layoffs and economic slowdown due to plummeting crude prices. Some analysts have estimated full recovery from the fires could cost around $9 billion — one of the steepest restoration costs in Canadian history.

Watch the VICE News dispatch, Inside the Alberta Wildfires, here: