This is what it looks like when wildfire sweeps through a city
The Fort McMurray fire is still burning out of control, but footage is beginning to emerge of the destruction left behind in northern Alberta’s largest metro area.
As of Friday morning, the wildfire that flared up in northeastern Alberta on Tuesday had spread to 247,000 acres or an area the size of Dallas, according to the Capital Weather Gang. The wildfire is expected to be one of the most costly natural disasters in Canada’s history. At least 1,600 structures have been destroyed or damaged. The fire has also forced some oil sands extraction operations to go on hold, costing the Canadian economy millions of dollars a day.
Officials ordered 80,000 residents to evacuate ahead of the fire and so far, not a single direct fatality has been reported. Royal Canadian Mounted Police have started escorting evacuees who fled north on Tuesday back to the south toward Edmonton and Calgary where more resources are available. On the way, they’ll pass through a Fort McMurray very different than the one they left a few days ago.
Video shot by firefighters in Fort McMurray reveals the unsettling scenes those evacuees will face in a town reshaped by the forces of the inferno that engulfed it.
Houses have been reduced to smoldering piles of ash and burnt out husks. Footage shows cars piled on top of each other, possibly as a result of explosions or powerful winds driven by the flames themselves. In some areas, flames are still burning while a pall of smoke hangs over the entire town.
Analysts at Aon Benfield, a reinsurance company, expect that economic losses from the fire will exceed $1 billion. The Bank of Montreal suggested the fire could cause $2.6 billion CAD ($2 billion USD) in losses if a quarter of Fort McMurray was destroyed, making this the most costly disaster in Canadian history. That number doesn’t include the cost of disrupting the oil sands industry, a major force in the Canadian economy.
The current record holder for costliest disaster is the 2013 Alberta floods, which inundated parts of Calgary and caused $1.65 billion in economic losses.
The risk of more damage isn’t over yet. Extreme fire conditions are expected to continue through this weekend. Hot temperatures and gusty winds could wreak havoc with the efforts of the 1,100 firefighters attempting to contain the blaze.