Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees flee to work camps, Edmonton, nearby lakes
By Topher Seguin
GREGOIRE LAKE, Alberta, May 4 (Reuters) – Thousands of people fleeing wildfires in a remote Canadian oil town faced shortages of fuel and food on Wednesday but the frantic evacuation also brought stories of shared resources and babies born in work camps.
About 88,000 residents of the western Canadian city of Fort McMurray have been evacuated as a massive wildfire tore through the city, burning down 1,600 structures amid hot and dry weather in the heart of the oil sands industry.
With some fleeing north to work camps operated by energy companies and others clogging the one highway south out of the city, evacuees scrambled to find gasoline and a place to sleep as ash rained down upon the roads and the smell of soot permeated the air.
Twitter filled with offers of free food, housing and animal care as worried evacuees asked officials and strangers alike about the status of their homes.
Outside an Edmonton arena where evacuees are being housed, fuel hauler John Mihai, 63, said he stayed up watching a wall of flame as little as a mile away from his Fort McMurray home.
“You can’t go to sleep when you see fire knocking on the door,” Mihai said.
“It was really close,” he added. He boarded a bus in the early hours with just a duffle bag of food, a few pairs of socks and some photographs.
A steady stream of cars could be seen traveling south from the city on Wednesday afternoon, while thick black clouds billowed on the horizon. Some families fled to Edmonton, the closest major city 435 km (270 miles) to the south, and others took refuge in smaller communities just outside the danger zone.
Some 100 evacuees pitched tents near Gregoire Lake, about 15 km (9 miles) west of the hamlet of Anzac southeast of Fort McMurray. Their cars, trucks and trailers lined the beach, and nearby gas stations had run out of fuel.
Officials at the Anzac Recreation Centre, where some 3,000 evacuees took refuge, brought in more cots to supplement the hundreds that have filled up its hockey rink.
At the local grocery store, where depleting stocks were just replenished, five people at a time were let in while nearly 50 waited outside.
Two pregnant evacuees gave birth on Tuesday at the Noralta Lodge at Fort McMurray Village, a facility about 35 km (22 miles) north of the city that normally houses oil sands workers, a manager said, adding that the mothers and babies were doing well.
In Conklin, south of Fort McMurray, evacuees have been checking into work camps since Wednesday morning, said Chantelle Desjarlais, a security guard.
The evacuees at the camps and gas stations, many of whom left without the chance to pack supplies, appeared lost and sad, and “the parents looked like they were trying to be happy for the kids,” Desjarlais said.
“I was crying when I was having breakfast because I was seeing the little kids and I just couldn’t say anything.”
(Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Edmonton, Andrea Hopkins and Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Mary Milliken)