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Alberta Wildfire Evacuees Ordered To Move Again; Blaze Destroys 1,600 Buildings

Officers look on as smoke from Fort McMurray's wildfires billows into the air in Alberta, Canada on Wednesday.
Topher Seguin
Officers look on as smoke from Fort McMurray's wildfires billows into the air in Alberta, Canada on Wednesday.

Some 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled the wildfire raging in Alberta, Canada, are now hearing that the fire has destroyed 1,600 homes and other structures. The province is now under a state of emergency; areas around Fort McMurray are also under a boil-water advisory.

For a sense of how dire the situation is, consider that many residents who were evacuated from Fort McMurray on Tuesday were ordered to move once again Wednesday night — and it happened quickly. Officials who issued the evacuation order for Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation at 9:50 p.m. stated that the evacuation would begin at 11 p.m. and buses would leave at midnight.

In an update for NPR's Newscast, Dan Karpenchuk says that strong winds have turned the fire south, putting at risk three small communities about 30 miles from Fort McMurray.

"About 250 firefighters are tackling the flames in the city where the water treatment plant and the airport have been threatened," Karpenchuk reports.

Alberta's government says fire crews are still working to contain the fire but that they're facing very unfavorable conditions in the oil sands city. Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the fire was "actively burning in residential areas in Fort McMurray, with significant structural loss."

By Wednesday morning, the fire had already consumed more than 6,500 acres and was running along both sides of Highway 63, a crucial access road in Fort McMurray. More recent photos show immense clouds of smoke and walls of flame running over the countryside.

To support Wednesday night's wider evacuation, emergency officials shifted temporary roadside operations that were providing fuel, food and water farther south along Highway 63.

Those evacuations were successfully completed, according to an update from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which is now coordinating local news about the fire. The agency adds that hot, dry and windy conditions will likely keep fueling the flames Thursday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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