The entire city of Fort McMurray was placed under a mandatory evacuation order at 5:20 p.m. Pacific time today (May 3).
The order effects a population of more than 80,000 people in Alberta.
Earlier in the afternoon, a massive forest fire jumped the Athabasca River. Since then, it has remained unchecked and destroyed buildings, including people’s homes.
Photographs and video coming out of Fort McMurray show giant flames closing in on long lines of vehicles leaving town.
The only road out of Fort McMurray is Highway 63. Videos posted on social media show traffic moving at a very slow pace. Fires are burning on both sides of the road.
Located in northeast Alberta, Fort McMurray can largely be considered a boom town that thrived on the expansion of the nearby oil sands. Since the price of oil began a rapid decline in 2014, the town has fallen on increasingly hard times.
The evacuation is the largest such order issued in response to a wildfire in Alberta’s history.
In 2013, more than 100,000 people had to evacuate Calgary and surrounding areas in response to a flood. That disaster left large sections of the city’s downtown core underwater and caused more than $5 billion in damages.