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Wildfire threatens oil town in western Canada, new evacuations

New alert in Canada: thousands of residents were ordered Tuesday to evacuate due to the approach of a forest fire nearby. proximity of Fort McMurray, the largest oil sands complex in the country.

Located in Alberta (west), this city of 70,000 inhabitants is doubly known because it is the center of Canada's oil production and also the symbol of the biggest disaster in the country's history, in terms of destruction, after was partially ravaged by flames in 2016.

“We are observing extreme behavior of the fire” which “is being pushed towards the city by the wind”, declared Josée St- Onge, spokesperson for the Alberta Fire Department, at a press conference.

“Smoke reduces visibility and it is difficult to determine exact distances “, she added, specifying that the “firefighters had been withdrawn from the first line for safety reasons” in the face of too intense a fire.

Wildfire threatens oil town in western Canada, new evacuations

This image released by Alberta Wildfire shows columns of smoke in the Canadian forest area of ​​Fort McMurray, Alberta, May 13, 2024 © Alberta wildfire – –

This fire, which has already consumed 9,600 hectares of forest, is now only 13 kilometers from the city. All southern neighborhoods (Prairie Creek, Abasand, Grayling Terrace and Beacon Hill) therefore received an evacuation order midday Tuesday.

Late Tuesday afternoon under a sky obscured by smoke from forest fires, huge lines of cars crowded onto the highway to leave the area. Many residents are still traumatized by the chaos that surrounded the 2016 evacuation of 90,000 residents via the only access road to the town surrounded by forest.

“I'm very anxious because in 2016 my apartment burned down so I'm reliving it all again,” says Fort McMurray resident Ashley Russell.

Wildfire threatens oil town in western Canada, new evacuations

Record forest loss in Canada in 2023 © AFP – Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA, Jean-Michel CORNU

The latter does not live in an evacuated neighborhood but she has already packed her “suitcases”, so as not to be caught off guard like eight years ago. “I'm ready to go.”

After experiencing the worst fire season in its history last year, Canada experienced one of its warmest winters, with little snow in many regions.

Strong or extreme drought conditions in much of the country are raising fears of another apocalyptic summer. Especially since this winter, the country recorded a record number of zombie fires, these infernos that smolder under the snow in the thick depths of the boreal forest peat bogs.

– 3 million barrels of oil –

However, the region's fire chief Jody Butz wanted to reassure the population, saying that “fire activity is very different from that of 2016”.

“We “We have abundant resources and are well placed to respond to the situation,” he said.

Wildfire threatens oil town in western Canada, new evacuations

This image courtesy of Kosar shows smoke and flames from the fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 14, 2024 © @superkosar Twitter account – KOSAR

All eyes are nevertheless on the region because the risk is great because of the oil installations. Canada has 10% of the world's reserves of black gold, a very large part of which is found in the tar sands.

Every day, more than 3 million barrels of oil are extracted from the sands, according to official government figures, helping to make Canada the fourth largest producer in the world and the leading exporter of crude to the United States.

A little further west, where nearly 5,000 people were also evacuated over the weekend near the town of Fort Nelson in the province of British Columbia, the situation was more favorable on Tuesday.

“It's cool, the sky is overcast and the wind is very light,” Rob Fraser, the city's mayor, told AFP. “If it continues like this, we may be able to control this beast.”

Wildfire threatens oil town in western Canada, new evacuations

Aerial photo, taken May 10, 2024 courtesy of the Alberta Wildfire Service, of smoke from fires burning in the forested area of ​​Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada © Alberta Wildfire Service – Handout

Victim of the devastating consequences of global warming, Canada experienced in 2023 the worst fire season in its history.

Nearly 18 million hectares of land have gone up in smoke – an area larger than Greece. Some 200,000 people also had to be evacuated and smoke from the fires spread as far as the United States and even Europe.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116