Lac La Biche (Canada), May 5: Residents fleeing a voracious wildfire in western Canada's Fort McMurray thronged a tiny hamlet several hours away today as firefighters battled to contain the raging blaze consuming a huge section of Alberta's oil sands region.
By the thousands, evacuees are arriving in Lac La Biche after making a chaotic escape from the epicenter of the inferno that has claimed two lives and destroyed entire neighborhoods of the oil city of Fort McMurray and its outskirts.
So far about 100,000 people have fled the path of the monster blaze some have dubbed "the beast." "There's no guide on how to get out of a forest fire," evacuee Alan Javierto told AFP in Lac La Biche, about 300 kilometers south of Fort McMurray, where many recounted a hurried, frightening escape as homes and businesses were reduced to cinders.
Television footage showed trees ablaze right on the edge of highways crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to leave the disaster zone, as billowing black smoke darkened the sky. The government has declared a state of emergency in Alberta, a province the size of France that is home to one of the world's most prodigious oil-producing industries.
"The footage we've seen, the cars racing down highways while fire rages on all sides is nothing short of terrifying," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told lawmakers in Ottawa.
Trudeau's government has pledged to match one dollar for each dollar donated by the public to the Red Cross, which is providing aid to those in need. Authorities have been battling the blaze with air tankers, helicopters and hundreds of firefighters, even as high winds have continued to whip up and spread the flames.
The flight from Fort McMurray began in earnest shortly before midnight Tuesday after a mandatory evacuation order in the city. Late yesterday fires forced the evacuation of Saprae Creek, a neighborhood east of the city's airport where even firefighters were forced to pull out.
Oil companies crucial to the region such as Suncor, Syncrude and Shell are also pulling out non-essential employees, and several firms have set up emergency shelters in their huge bungalow worker communities. The fire has already destroyed some 2,000 homes on the outskirts of Fort McMurray, consuming 10,000 hectares, authorities said. The region has been left bone-dry after a period of unusually scant rainfall and unseasonably high temperatures.