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The raging wildfire in Fort McMurray threatened to engulf fleeing motorists. (Photo: JEROMEGAROT/EPA)

'All You See is Red Flames': State of Emergency as Wildfire Rages in Alberta

'It is a nearly impossible situation.'

Deirdre Fulton

A state of emergency has been declared in the Canadian province of Alberta, where a massive wildfire has grown to five times its initial size and continues to rage.

An estimated 1,600 destroyed homes and businesses had been destroyed, and a mandatory evacuation order was expanded late Wednesday to encompass additional communities in and around the tar sands capital of Fort McMurray. Between 80,000 and 90,000 people have fled since the fire intensified on Tuesday.

According to the Globe and Mail:

Officials ordered people to leave Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Fort McMurray First Nation late Wednesday. Anzac’s recreational centre, which is nearly 50 kilometres southeast of Fort Mac, was housing hundreds of evacuees from the embattled city prior to the most recent evacuation order.

[...] The second evacuation order is complicated by the fact Anzac officials were trying to move Fort McMurray residents out of the recreational centre and into nearby work camps. This means those fleeing the enlarged zone were scattered throughout the region.

CBC News reported:

A red glow from the encroaching fire can be seen ominously framing the Anzac evacuation centre as people board buses. For Donna Guillamot, evacuated yesterday from Fort McMurray, the feeling is all too familiar. 

"I thought it was safe here, so I guess we'll go to Edmonton," said Guillamot. "It's very stressful, you don't know what's burned, what's not burned, when you can go back."

"Now you're sitting here and all you see is red flames. It's pretty scary."

"Forest fires have devastated entire communities in Northern Alberta," said Jean-Philippe Tizi, vice president of emergency management for the Canadian Red Cross, which is encouraging families and individuals who have evacuated to register with the organization.

The federal government will match individual donations to the Canadian Red Cross to help those impacted by the wildfire, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday.

This video shows just how close evacuees are coming to the leaping flames:

High temperatures and gusty winds helped the fire spread on Wednesday. It will be just slightly cooler on Thursday, and there are concerns about the winds, which could gust to 50 km/h (roughly 31 miles per hour).

"Temperatures are expected to remain high, with a glimmer of hope on the horizon as a cold front approaches," wrote CBC News reporter Lucas Powers. "It could, however, bring lightning with it, possibly starting more fires. It is a nearly impossible situation."

Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told CBC: "[O]nce a fire like this is up and running, the only things that are going to stop it is if the weather changes or if it runs out of fuel to burn up. With a fire like this, it's burning so hot that air drops are like spitting on a campfire. Water and retardant might slow it down, but probably not much."

At 5 a.m. Thursday, Environment Canada issued several air quality advisories because of conditions created by the Fort McMurray blaze.

And scientists say such infernos could become commonplace as the world keeps getting hotter.

"Climate change models and research all point to the idea that fire season is going to be longer in the coming years, and the fires will be more severe," David Andison, adjunct professor with the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia, told CBC. "It will really just be the new normal."

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