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Huge Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Oil Sands City In Canada

Students from Fort McMurray Composite High School are released early as wildfire burns nearby in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday. An uncontrolled wildfire burning near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, the heart of Canada's oil sands region, has forced the evacuation of nearly all the city's 80,000 residents, local authorities said on Tuesday.

Authorities have issued a mandatory evacuation order for the 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, where a wildfire has taken hold in the oil sands region. According to officials, it's the largest evacuation order caused by fire in the province's history.

Although no injuries have yet been reported, commercial and residential properties have been destroyed, including a mobile home park. Flames have jumped Highway 63, the only road out of Fort McMurray, causing a panic among residents. The worst of the fires are on the city's south side.

As Dan Karpenchuk reports for NPR:

"Long lines of cars snaked out of the city as people were forced to flee, some with little notice. Officials say the hospital remains undamaged but all patients have been taken out, and airlifts are being considered for some. Oil sands work camps are being pressed into service to house thousands of people. And officials expect more challenging conditions Wednesday."

One man recounted his harrowing drive out of the Fort McMurray fire zone, in this video on Twitter:

The wildfire, which spans more than 6,500 acres, was discovered Sunday but dramatically escalated Tuesday as a result of weather conditions including high temperatures and low humidity.

"Right now, we have fire burning within the city," said Chief Darby Allen of Fort McMurray's fire department. "It is impacting communities as we speak. Homes are on fire as we speak."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted support for residents affected and urged them to follow evacuation orders. He also said the federal government is standing by to help.

Forestry manager Bernie Schmitte says the worst is not over, and weather conditions on Wednesday are expected to remain extreme.

Fort McMurray is located in Canada's oil sands region, home to the third largest reserves of oil in the world. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that:

"One of the largest oil sands companies in Alberta, Suncor, has reduced production because of wildfires that forced the evacuation of the town of Fort McMurray. Suncor says its facilities, about 15 miles north of Fort McMurray, are not in danger, but the company is cutting back operations so that employees and their families can get to safety."

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