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The latest news on wildfires in Canada as thousands forced from homes in the West

Wildfires have forced thousands out of several communities in Western Canada. Roughly 6,600 residents have been evacuated out of parts of Fort McMurray, Alta., while the rest of the city remains on evacuation alert. In Fort Nelson, B.C.
Traffic moves along Highway 63 as wildfire smoke hangs in air in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Wildfires have forced thousands out of several communities in Western Canada.

Roughly 6,600 residents have been evacuated out of parts of Fort McMurray, Alta., while the rest of the city remains on evacuation alert. In Fort Nelson, B.C., about 4,700 people are out of their homes. And a fire near Cranberry Portage, Man., has forced out about 500 residents.

Here are the latest developments (all times are MT):

4:20 p.m.

An update from the BC Wildfire Service says precipitation and cooler temperatures are expected in many regions of the province over the coming days.

The statement says conditions remain unseasonably dry and more typical of those observed in the late summer, meaning fuels are more susceptible to ignition and wildfires can spread quickly.

The service says it's asking British Columbians to do their part to be responsible with any activity that could potentially spark a new wildfire.


3:30 p.m.

The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, which includes Fort Nelson, B.C., says the wildfire that forced the evacuation of the community of about 4,700 last Friday has caused “some structural damage” at rural properties outside town.

Rob Fraser says staff at the emergency operations centre in Fort Nelson are working to assess the damage and contact property owners.

He would not say how many structures have been damaged or if they include homes.

The mayor says he had wanted to wait before making the news public, but was “forced” to confirm the losses after someone with a camera took video showing some of the damage.


2:15 p.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says winds over the fire burning just outside the northern community of Fort Nelson were expected to shift, pushing smoke back into the area.

An update from the service says the smoke could cause visibility challenges for aircraft assigned to fight the fire now mapped at 127 square kilometres in size.

It says 19 helicopters are assigned to the Fort Nelson area, and fixed-wing airtankers are available.

The service says a low-pressure system with cooler temperatures and higher humidity has led to decreased fire activity over the last 24 hours, allowing crews to work along the edge of the fire and make progress on “direct attack objectives.”


1:30 p.m.

Stores and restaurants, many of which closed on Tuesday in Fort McMurray, are slowly reopening.

At the city's Peter Pond Mall, only five of 74 tenants were open Wednesday but about half were back in business Thursday.

Shauna Hannam, the mall's specialty leasing manager, says people were torn because they remember the massive evacuation from the 2016 fire.

She says there was some confusion over what to do when half the city wasn't evacuated this time.


11:30 a.m.

The Earth observation component of the European Union’s space program says carbon emissions from British Columbia wildfires this month are the highest they’ve been in any May over the last 22 years.

A statement from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service says the total estimated carbon emissions from Canadian wildfires in the first half of the month amount to around 15 megatonnes, of which the B.C. fires account for more than 12 megatonnes.

The organization says wildfire emissions in British Columbia have already surpassed twice the previous highest recorded for the month, which was set last year.

Senior scientist Mark Parrington says the scale and intensity of the province’s fires “is highly concerning” so early in the season.


11:15 a.m.

The fire chief for the Fort McMurray region says he is grateful for Mother Nature providing rainfall yesterday and today but it likely won't impact the return date for those evacuated.

Chief Jodie Butz says it's too soon to say what will happen over the next few days but at this point there is no structural damage in the four evacuated neighbourhoods.

He says an additional 40 RCMP officers have been brought in to help — including by patrolling the empty neighbourhoods.

Alberta Wildfire information Officer Josee St-Onge says the public shouldn't get complacent because the fire could stick around for weeks or months.


11:10 a.m.

The Manitoba and federal governments have signed a deal to spend a combined $38.4 million over four years to boost firefighting and prevention.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement today in Winnipeg.

The money, to be split evenly, is aimed at buying more firefighting equipment, boosting training, and increasing the number of skilled wildland firefighters and other staff.


10:55 a.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says the blaze threatening Fort Nelson is spreading away from the northern community.

The fire now spans nearly 130 square kilometres.

The agency says cooler temperatures and higher humidity are expected to help the firefighting effort over the next couple days.

Rob Fraser, the mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, says he's confident there will soon be word that the fire is no longer threatening the town.


10:10 a.m.

Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen says all of the province's wildfire crews have been hired for the season.

But he says additional workers won't be able to join the fight until next week.

Crews are back on the fire line today near Fort McMurray.

The province says 172 firefighters, 22 helicopters and 57 pieces of heavy equipment are currently assigned to the blaze near the oilsands city.


10 a.m.

A Calgary pet charity is accepting pets from Fort McMurray.

Melissa David Smith from Parachutes for Pets says her organization has so far arranged for the care of 40 animals.

She says there is also a social work team offering support to evacuees.


9: 50 a.m.

A spokesman for Athabasca Oil Corp. says the company has taken a number of measures to protects its facility near Fort McMurray.

The Hangingstone oilsands site is about 20 kilometres southwest of the city.

The company says it has been building fire breaks and clearing trees.


9:45 a.m.

Crews battling the Fort McMurray wildfire woke up today to light rain, cloudy skies and cooler temperatures.

The blaze remains out of control and continues to threaten the southwest edge of the city of 68,000.

About 6,600 people were ordered out of several neighbourhoods on Tuesday and have been told the evacuation order will remain through the weekend.


9:40 a.m.

Wildfire officials in Alberta say a blaze threatening the oilsands hub of Fort McMurray didn't grow overnight.

The fire remains 5.5 kilometres from city limits.

Alberta Wildfire information officer Christie Tucker says there are currently 44 fires burning in the province.

One is classified as out of control, and that is the Fort McMurray fire.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2024.

The Canadian Press