Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Massive wildfire sweeps into Fort McMurray, Alberta

Some of the nearly 80,000 residents evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, had to drive in horrific conditions along Highway 63 on Tuesday. (Photo via Twitter Global News)
Those of us who follow the weather knew the potential was there for a dangerous wildfire season in Canada. With a warm and dry winter in many locations, lots of tinder-dry fuel was present. However, I did not expect it to start with such ferocity and in early May. One of the largest evacuations in Alberta's history was frantically underway on Tuesday, as a massive wildfire swept towards Fort McMurray, 435 km northeast of Edmonton. The fire grew rapidly, in record heat and extreme low relative humidity, to over 6000 acres in less than 24 hours. On Wednesday morning, the fire was heading into downtown Fort McMurray. Numerous businesses and homes have already been lost, as more than 250 firefighters try to battle the enormous blaze. Resources are pouring in from across the country including those from the Canadian Military and Royal Canadian Air Force.

A Super 8 Motel near Fort McMurray, Alberta burns on Tuesday as an extreme wildfire swept into the city. (Photo via Twitter #YMMFIRE)

Weather conditions were perfect for the fire to spread, with a record high of 32.6C (90F) observed on Tuesday. The normal high should be 16C (61F). More record heat is forecast for Wednesday, with increasing winds along an advancing cold front. Unfortunately, with the very low relative humidity, these are ideal burning conditions. On Tuesday, the humidity was as low as 10 per cent. There are fears that large portions of the community may be lost today. Weather conditions will be cooler by Thursday.

In southern Quebec, there are currently no active fires, but the threat remains high north and east of Montreal according to SOPFEU (Société de protection des forêts contre le feu).

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