More than 80,000 residents of the Alberta oil sands city were ordered to flee after an earlier order that had applied to nearly 30,000 people, mostly on the south side, was extended to tens of thousands more as flames continued to make their way into the city.
Panicked residents packed Highway 63, the only route out of the city, as flames jumped across the road.
The wildfire, whipped by unpredictable winds on a day of high temperatures, worsened dramatically in a short time and many had little notice to flee.
Alberta premier Rachel Notley said officials were doing all they could to ensure everyone’s safety and were looking into a possible airlift for residents with health issues.
Brian Jean, the leader of Alberta’s opposition party who lives in the city, said that much of central Fort McMurray was being destroyed by the fire. He said flames were encroaching on the city centre and the city’s evacuated hospital was on fire. “Our hospital is on fire, where my children were born,” he said.
“My home of the last 10 years and the home I had for 15 years before that are both destroyed.”
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said the flames burned a number of structures.
The main road into Fort McMurray was closed at the southern entrance to the city after flames jumped the road. Pictures posted on Twitter showed long lines of traffic and skies darkened by thick smoke as flames licked the edges of roads.