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Nearly 80,000 Evacuated As Wildfires Rip Through Alberta, Canada

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A swath of the Canadian West is burning. A wildfire continues to rage near the city of Fort McMurray in the oil-rich province of Alberta.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

About 1,600 buildings and other structures have been damaged or destroyed. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke to the media as firefighters worked to bring the fire under control.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RACHEL NOTLEY: At this point, the focus continues to be on the safety of the residents in and around Fort McMurray. That is the primary focus of all the work that's going on right now.

CORNISH: More than 88,000 people have fled the city. It's an evacuation made more difficult by highway closures and gasoline shortages.

SIEGEL: Fort McMurray resident Krista Balsom left her home on Monday with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. They came back when they thought it was safe, only to be told to leave again in a rush. Balsom says she even forgot her purse.

KRISTA BALSOM: Yesterday afternoon we packed everything up around 3 o'clock, and we went to hit the road. It was, you know, kind of organized chaos because the first time we evacuated, there was only hundreds of people evacuating. The second time there was tens of thousands. So when you have about 80,000 people trying to evacuate a city that only has one main road going through it, things get a little bit hectic, especially when the fire crosses that highway.

CORNISH: Other residents have been airlifted out of Fort McMurray. The city is more or less surrounded by forest and it's been unusually warm and dry for this time of year, creating a dangerous hazard. So far officials estimate almost 20,000 acres have burned.

SIEGEL: North of the city, one of the world's largest oil reserves lies underground. And late today, pipelines there in the shale oil fields were starting shutdown procedures due to the wildfire. The city fire chief said powerful winds and more high temperatures make the situation unpredictable. He called the fire a moving animal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.