Alberta searches for alternative route out of Fort McMurray as wildfire forces residents to flee |

As were thousands of Fort McMurray residents were forced to flee their homes again With wildfires raging out of control, the provincial government said Wednesday it is exploring another road route out of the northern Alberta community.

On Tuesday afternoon, several areas of Fort McMurray were evacuated and about 6,600 residents were forced from their homes.

As they headed south, the roads were extremely congested as people fled their homes and moved out of the city, bringing back memories of 2016, when the entire municipality was evacuated.

“Especially with a larger population, it’s very important to be able to get out of the city safely,” said Hannah Swann, an evacuee from Fort McMurray. “It felt like the last time.”

Highways 63 and 881 are the only highways leading south from Fort McMurray.

Premier Danielle Smith told reporters Wednesday that preliminary work is underway for an alternative route to Fort McMurray.

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“We have begun a process to consult on Highway 686, which will connect the Peace Area to Fort McMurray,” Smith said.

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Smith said the route has not been decided yet because it is in the early stages of planning.

Adding another route out of Fort McMurray was considered under the NDP government of Rachel Notley.

“It wasn’t looking to go in a completely different direction,” Notley said Wednesday. “It was just a different exit that went around and connected to (Highway) 63 farther south.”

Following the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, Formal recommendations were made following independent reviews. Which suggested improvements in communication, forecasting and investment in FireSmart funding.

Alberta Wildfire accepted all 31 recommendations.

“The change we’ve made since 2016 is bringing the fire season a month earlier,” said Kristi Tucker, Alberta Wildfire Information Unit manager. “We are the earliest to have legalized in Alberta, and this year it’s even earlier because of the conditions we’re seeing.”

Click to play video: 'Lessons learned from 2016 applied to wildfire near Fort McMurray'

Lessons learned from 2016 applied to wildfire near Fort McMurray

Wildfire season in Alberta typically begins March 1 and runs until October 31, but this year it started 10 days earlier than usual.

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New technology like night vision firefighting helicopters are also helping fight wildfires this year. Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said three of those helicopters are fighting a wildfire burning near Fort McMurray.

“The ability to fight fires at night has become a real game-changer in Alberta. We are the only jurisdiction in Canada that has night vision helicopters,” he said.

Although some improvements have been made, Smith said the province is still learning.

“So much of the planning around this fire season is because of the lessons learned from last year,” Smith said.

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