It was an explosive night in Fort McMurray Monday. And those overnight developments have the Notley government considering another approach to the re-entry protocol Fort McMurray residents are so anxious to see happen.
In the Thickwood neighbourhood along Silin Forest road, three condos were lost to fire, within a four-plex. Three other structures near Father Mercredi school were damaged. And it was first reported that in the Dickensfield neighborhood a home exploded on McConachie Crescent. But, that was later corrected and it now looks like it happened on Clenell Crescent. The blast damaged seven homes on Dickins Drive, according to a news release posted on the Wood Buffalo website.
“Obviously yesterday’s events have caused us to take a second look at those plans,” Premier Rachel Notley said at the suggestion a hook up of natural gas contributed to the explosion.
“When you start, turning on a switch and starting a city of 90,000 people, you know sometimes stuff happens. That’s why officials have been re-enforcing, and we are re-enforcing that we’re not going to have people going back until we know it’s safe. What those two incidents last night demonstrated to us, is that’s the right way to go.”
“What it does is suggest there’s a level of volatility that needs to be removed.”
However no decisions have been made to retreat on the current schedule of hook up of essential services. “Not as far as I know at this point in time they’re not,” Scott Long, executive director of operations for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
“That’s why they’re under investigation, pending the results they may look at things differently. But again I’ll refer back, sixty percent of the gas infrastructure in Fort McMurray was activated with out any issues,” Long said.
Monday night’s evacuation of 8,000 oil field workers saw three quarters of them head north to other oil sands facilities that aren’t being threatened by the fire. The move was made as winds took the fire into camps that just last week were used to house evacuated home owners. The fire destroyed the 665 unit Blacksand Executive Lodge, which is owned by Calgary-based Horizon.
When they’ll be allowed to leave their new location isn’t known yet. Premier Rachel Notley said the fire south of there, has them isolated. “The highway itself is not open for people to be evacuating on the ground southerly,” Notley told the news conference. “So that’s the big issue right now, because with the fire moving towards the east, Highway-63 is very likely to be threatened today at some point and the odds are good that it may be closed for a period of time.”
Two other lodges in the area are currently at risk, and crews will work to protect them, as well as a sawmill in the area.
“They did move workers to the north which is currently not threatened at all,” Long said. “We’re hopeful that they won’t be threatened after today.” By moving the estimated 6,000 workers north, they are out of harms way. Another 2,000 workers were transported south he said.
The main oil sands plants are not in danger said Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire. “Oil sands sites have large fuel and vegetation breaks and are very resilient to wildfires and the industry fire fighting resources are ready.”
“The fire has jumped the Athabasca River in the past, but I will note as well that the Athabasca River is in front of the Suncor facility so we hope it’ll provide a good fire break.”
Work continues in the city of Fort McMurray. Structural assessments of 19,000 buildings are effectively completed. So far 89 percent are safe to occupy, ten percent have been destroyed. One percent need further investigation. That progress has the premier encouraged. “Slightly more optimistic numbers than what were originally estimated last week,” she said.
Work has been halted on the clean up of the Fort McMurray hospital. The 400 doing that job had to be evacuated as a precaution.