Aqua-Modis satellite imagery shows a fire north of Fort Chipewyan on the afternoon of May 30, 2023.
The community of Fort Chipewyan is under an evacuation order, with residents told they will be taken in stages to Fort McMurray by air over the next 72 hours.
Temporary accommodation is being arranged in Fort McMurray and Fort McKay. The vulnerable and elderly are being taken to safety first, and are asked to register at the Archie Simpson Arena.
Most people are expected to leave the community in the next day.
Issuing a joint evacuation order, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the entire community must leave.
“The evacuation will be done in stages and will begin with residents in Allison Bay, the nearest community to the wildfire boundary. Residents will be informed through the three Nations or emergency officials by phone or door-to-door once their neighbourhood is ready to be evacuated,” the municipality stated on its website.
“There are limited flights available for the remainder of today, May 30. The majority of people will be transported out of Fort Chipewyan tomorrow, beginning at approximately 8am. If you do not live in Allison Bay or are not a vulnerable person, please wait until tomorrow to register as an evacuee and leave the community.
“Fort Chipewyan leadership is asking all residents to remain calm and wait to be informed. Evacuating in stages is needed due to limited space at the airport.”
The municipality said the fire burning north of Fort Chipewyan, named MWF-025, is now considered “the number-one priority wildfire in Alberta.”
MWF-025’s southern flank, which advanced significantly in the direction of Fort Chipewyan on Monday, appeared to be around six kilometres from the community’s airfield in the latest data available through the Firms online fire tracking system.
Sandy Bowman, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s mayor, said earlier on Tuesday that the situation was “moving quickly.”
Roughly 1,000 people live in and near Fort Chipewyan, which is connected to the NWT town of Fort Smith by a winter road and the Slave River.
There is no year-round road access to Fort Chipewyan. The evacuation is taking place in stages because there is limited space at the airport.
Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro of the Mikisew Cree First Nation said in a Facebook live video that the airlift of residents was expected to take three days.
Tuccaro said three Hercules aircraft were on the way to the community and “the majority of people” should expect to leave the community on Wednesday.
He said the fire appeared to be roughly five kilometres from Dorey Lake and maybe eight kilometres from Allison Bay.
Evacuees are told to report to the Archie Simpson Arena when their neighbourhood is told to do so.
A group on Facebook exists for people to find information about services available on arrival in Fort McMurray.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, speaking from the community’s airport at 7pm on Tuesday, described an aircraft taking 40 evacuees from Fort Chipewyan in the background.
“Don’t go to the community hall. We will notify you when you are going to get picked up … nobody will be left behind,” Adam said.
“We might not get everybody out tonight but we will have everybody out of here by tomorrow,” he added, though he expected some volunteer firefighters to remain in Fort Chipewyan.
“Right now, the fire is burning away from the community. The community is not at any threat at this point in time,” Adam concluded.