On May 1, 2016, a wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. On May 3, it swept through the community, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history, with upwards of 88,000 people forced from their homes.[source] Firefighters were assisted by personnel from the Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, other Canadian provincial agencies, to fight the wildfire. Aid for evacuees was provided by various governments and via donations through the Canadian Red Cross and other local and national charitable organizations.
Sweeping through Fort McMurray, the wildfire destroyed approximately 2,400 homes and buildings. Another 2,000 residents in three communities were displaced after their homes were declared unsafe for reoccupation due to contamination. The fire continued to spread across northern Alberta and into Saskatchewan, consuming forested areas and impacting Athabasca oil sands operations. With an estimated damage cost of C$9.9 billion, it was the costliest disaster in Canadian history.
The fire spread across approximately 590,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) before it was declared to be under control on July 5, 2016. It continued to smoulder, and was fully extinguished on August 2, 2017. It is suspected to have been caused by humans in a remote area 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Fort McMurray, but no official cause has been determined to date.
Impact on Communities and infrastructure
Initial estimates from May 4 indicated that 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray were destroyed. Firefighters worked through May 6 and 7 to hold the line and protect the downtown and remaining homes in Fort McMurray.[source] On May 9, this figure was revised to 2,400 structures, and about 85 to 90% of the community was reported undamaged. Overnight on May 16–17, two explosions occurred in the Thickwood and Dickensfield neighbourhoods, damaging 10 buildings and destroying three.[source]
The town’s power grid sustained damage. Almost the entire Fort McMurray area was placed under a boil-water advisory during the fire, since untreated water was placed into the municipal water system to supply firefighters. The boil water advisory was lifted in all areas of Fort McMurray on August 17, 2016.
Statistics Canada suspended enumeration activities for the 2016 Census in the Fort McMurray area on May 5. Alternative means to collect data from its residents were to be determined at a later date. Some census data was received early, and some residents sent their census data online after the evacuation. Statistics Canada was able to create an accurate 2016 census profile for Fort McMurray using this information, as well as Canada Revenue Agency income tax records, local birth and death records, and long-form census information collected by surveyors going door to door.
The neighbourhoods of Waterways, Abasand, and Beacon Hill after being severely burned were then declared unsafe for reoccupation, due to contamination from arsenic and heavy metals. These neighbourhoods also do not have water service due to damages to the water system.