Canadian Wildfire Explodes in Size, Forces More Evacuations
TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A catastrophic wildfire that has forced all 88,000 residents to flee Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada exploded tenfold in size on Thursday, cutting off evacuees in camps and shelters north of the city.
The out-of-control blaze has burned down entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada's energy heartland and forced a precautionary shutdown of some oil production, driving up global oil prices.
Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, have been destroyed.
Although the cause of the fire was unknown, officials said tinder-dry brush, low humidity and hot, gusting winds left crews unable to stop the massive conflagration.
The blaze, which erupted on Sunday, grew from 18,500 acres (7,500 hectares) on Wednesday to some 210,000 acres (85,000 hectares) on Thursday, an area roughly 10 times the size of Manhattan.
"What people in that region have gone through in the last couple of days is literally hell on earth," Rona Ambrose, leader of the opposition Conservative Party and an Albertan, fighting back tears as she addressed the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
Fire has intermittently blocked the only route south toward major cities, so thousands of evacuees fled north toward oil camps and a few small settlements.
They found themselves stranded in makeshift shelters and on roadsides when the flames cut them off from Fort McMurray. Most of Alberta's oil sands facilities are north of the city and not in the path of the flames.
A government airlift of evacuees began from oil facility airstrips on Thursday. Canadian Natural Resources, meanwhile, said it airlifted about 2,600 people over the last 24 hours to Edmonton and Calgary, including its own workers, to make room for more evacuees.