(Smoke billows from the massive Fort McMurray wildfire. Photo via @mitchee69
APTN National News
Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher said he was breathing clear air Thursday as the wind pushed smoke from a raging wildfire south, away from his community.
Fort McKay sits about 65 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and its only road south, Hwy 63, has been blocked as a result of a wildfire that has bloomed to 85,000 hectares burning about 80 kilometres south of the First Nation.
“The air quality if pretty good today, the wind is blowing to the south,” said Boucher, in a telephone interview. “The fire is headed in the other direction.”
The community of 800 people saw its population quintuple following an evacuation of Fort McMurray on Tuesday. Boucher said about 5,000 people flowed into his community to take temporary shelters at several oil industry-run camps on his territory.
“We have quite a list of a number of camps, so we were able to find accommodations for everybody that needed a place to stay,” he said.
Boucher said there are now about 2,000 people still on the territory, many waiting for Hwy 63 to open and allow them to go south.
Boucher said medical and food supplies have been allowed up the highway to restock the community.
He said there is still a high level of anxiety among the population over fears the fire may shift north, but there is no immediate danger at the moment.
“You can see the fire has picked up and heading south, so I’m advising people not to be too concerned,” he said. “There is no imminent danger for the community. We are out of the danger zone.”
There are currently 49 wildfires burning in the region and seven are still out of control. The fires have now spread over 85,000 hectares and provincial officials still have no idea on a return-home date for the 88,000 people evacuated since Tuesday from Fort McMurray, Fort McMurray First Nation, Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates.
While the firefighting ranks now have 22 water bombers flying runs over Fort McMurray to protect buildings and houses—including four arriving from Quebec—the aerial attack alone won’t stop the wildfire, said Chad Morrison, senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention and Enforcement, during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Let me be clear, air tankers are not going to stop this fire, this fire is an extreme fire event,” said Morrison, during a press conference Thursday. “It is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get significant rain to help us.”