NEWS
05/03/2016 16:45 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Oilsands work camps fill with evacuees as wildfire threatens Fort McMurray

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilsands work camps were being pressed into service Tuesday to house evacuees as a raging wildfire emptied the city of Fort McMurray.

"We've made our work camp available to staff and their families who have been evacuated and need a place to stay," said Cameron Yost of Shell Canada.

Most oilsands projects are well north of the community, while the worst of the flames were on the city's south side.

Shell's camp is about 95 kilometres away and remained operating late Tuesday.

Still, precautions were being taken.

"We are looking at getting non-essential people out by aircraft," said Yost, who added Shell's camp could accommodate hundreds of evacuees.

Will Gibson, a spokesman for Syncrude, which has a plant about 35 kilometres north of town, was himself one of the evacuees heading north away from the flames.

"People are actually being evacuated toward the plants," he said. "We're being instructed to go to work camps in the region and report in there. We're assuming it will be more than a night."

Gibson said he had to flee his neighbourhood via a grass embankment because the fire had already cut off the road at both ends. 

"I left my neighbourhood and there was houses on fire," he said. "I don't know if and when I'll be going back."

Large work camps associated with oilsands projects can accommodate thousands to house workers who come from as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador.

A 2015 municipal census counted 43,000 people in its "shadow" population, a term used for temporary residents who often live in such camps.