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Emergency officials to provide updates today as wildfire forces thousands to flee Fort McMurray

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A wildfire that forced more than 6,600 people from their homes in Fort McMurray continues to grow, threatening a northeastern Alberta community that was ravaged by fire eight years ago.

Four Fort McMurray neighbourhoods — Beacon Hill, Abasand, Prairie Creek and Grayling Terrace — were evacuated Tuesday as a wildfire grew dangerously near. 

As of Wednesday morning, the fire had consumed nearly 21,000 hectares of forest, after almost doubling in size the day before, and moved closer to the community as it spread rapidly toward the northwest. 

After days of volatile fire activity, a favourable change in the weather is expected Wednesday with cooler temperatures and weaker winds that is expected to push the fire away from homes and businesses. 

Provincial officials, including Premier Danielle Smith, Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen, and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, will provide an update on the wildfire response in Fort McMurray today at 10:30 a.m.

Emergency and government officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will provide an additional update at 11:30 a.m. CBC News will carry both news conferences live online. Watch them here.

The fire spread rapidly Tuesday, fanned by parched conditions, high temperatures and extreme winds that pushed the flames toward the community’s southwestern edge.

Black plumes of smoke funnelled across the sky Tuesday as the wildfire began to consume areas previously burned in 2016, when a wildfire forced the largest evacuation in Alberta history and destroyed thousands of homes and other structures. 

It was a familiar scene for many Fort McMurray residents as trucks and cars clogged all roads leading south and firefighters prepared to again defend the city, including many streets destroyed by fire eight years ago.   

WATCH l Thousands leave their homes as Fort McMurray wildfire threatens: 

Thousands ordered to evacuate Fort McMurray as wildfire threatens

3 hours ago

Duration 3:21

More than 6,000 residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., headed south to safety as a large, out-of-control wildfire drew closer to their community. Other areas in Fort McMurray remain on evacuation alert and residents need to be ready to leave on short notice.

Outside the evacuation zone, the rest of Fort McMurray, and some surrounding communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, remain on evacuation alert — with residents needing to be ready to leave on short notice.

The wildfire continues to burn out of control. As of Wednesday morning, the closest point of the fire was about 5.5 km from the Fort McMurray landfill on the southern outskirts of the community and 4.5 km from the intersection of highways 63 and 881— the only highways leading south out of the oilsands hub.

Firefighters have contended with extreme conditions and crews were pulled from the front lines Tuesday due to dangerous conditions, pushing the firefight into the sky. 

Helicopters and air tankers continue to fly while crews on the ground build containment lines and set up sprinkler systems to protect homes and businesses under threat. 

In an update posted Wednesday morning, Alberta Wildfire said a shift in the winds is expected to push the fire away from Fort McMurray and Highway 63. 

Less than 1 mm of rain fell on the wildfire overnight Tuesday but the forecast is expected to calm.

“Active fire behaviour is expected today but should be less than yesterday, thanks to cooler temperatures and weaker winds,” Alberta Wildfire said.

Two night vision helicopters worked overnight on the fire to drop water on the fire’s active edges and firefighters patrolled from the highway to monitor fire activity, officials said. 

The cause of the wildfire remains under investigation. 

Evacuees who require food or accommodation are told to report to a reception centre at the Cold Lake Agriplex, 4608 38th Ave. in Cold Lake.

RV and camping accommodations are available in Lac La Biche, but hotels are already full from an initial flood of evacuees who arrived Tuesday.

The City of Edmonton has set up an evacuee reception centre at Clareview Community Recreation Centre, 3804 139th Ave. The centre will provide food services, clothing, pet day care and health care. The Red Cross will be at the centre to co-ordinate hotel accommodations. 

The province will provide financial support for evacuees.

A spokesperson for the Alberta government said Tuesday that just like in previous years, evacuees who are away from home for at least seven days will get $1,250 per adult and $500 per child under 18.

Just Asking wants to know: What questions do you have about wildfires and your health?
Fill out the details on this form and send us your questions ahead of our show on May 18.

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