Fire destroys lodge for workers north of the city
CBC News, May 17, 2016
The Fort McMurray wildfire has destroyed one of the oilsands camps north of the city and is roaring eastward toward others in its path.
In a news conference Tuesday morning, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley confirmed fire had destroyed all 665 units at Blacksand Executive Lodge, which provided temporary housing for workers in oil facilities nearby.
CBC News obtained photos of the fire engulfing the facility around 6 a.m. MT Tuesday.
Around 2 p.m. Tuesday, CBC News obtained more photos that appeared to depict flames at the edge of Noralta Lodge, a large oilsands camp a few kilometres east of Blacksand.
Officials said the fire was expected to move east on Tuesday and would likely jump Highway 63 south of Noralta Lodge.
Businesses in the area have been alerted. “We have an evacuation plan and we’re ready to use it,” said Dave Harman, a director for the Northlands Sawmill.
On Tuesday afternoon, he and a small team of colleagues were preparing the sawmill site for the fire. They had started bulldozing trees and brush to make wide fire breaks just days after the first fires hit Fort McMurray. Harman said they have now brought in a water cannon and 70 sprinklers.
An official told him the flames were one kilometre west of the facility, which is located about halfway between the northern edge of Fort MacMurray and the Noralta Lodge site.
Thousands of workers told to leave
The destruction of the Blacksand lodge came just hours after thousands of workers were told to leave the area. The sky glowed orange from the southwest as thousands of workers from camps outside the town were directed to get on buses and leave.
An official emergency alert said new evacuees from several camps to the north and south of Fort McMurray should take Highway 63 southbound. But some of the workers were taken a few kilometres north instead.
Notley confirmed that roughly 8,000 workers were affected by Monday’s new evacuation order, and estimated some 6,000 were left in the north.
“It’s so scary and intimidating,” said oil worker B.J. Spears, in an interview Tuesday morning.
He was sent home during the first wave of evacuations, when the province cleared the northern camps of all non-essential workers during the weekend of May 7. After five days in Ontario, Spears was called back to stay and work out of Noralta Lodge.
He arrived Sunday and worked an overnight shift. When he awoke Monday afternoon, authorities told him it was time to leave.
“You just get on those buses and pray that you’re headed away from the danger,” said Spears.
Spears said he and about 2,000 other workers were sent to a camp farther north called McClelland Lake Lodge, near Suncor’s Fort Hills site. He said supervisors told them Tuesday to stay in their rooms and wait for news.
But he and some of his colleagues wonder why they’re staying put.
“I don’t know what they’re waiting for,” Spears said.
Notley said she’s confident energy companies can airlift the remaining workers out if needed. She said the fire was expected to move east, not north, on Tuesday.
As of 10 p.m. Monday night, 19 oil sites and camps north of Fort McMurray were under a mandatory evacuation order, including the Syncrude and Suncor production facilities south of Fort MacKay.