New alert in Canada: thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate their homes urgently as a wildfire approaches Fort McMurray, home to the North American country’s largest amounts of tar sands.

This city in the province of Alberta, in western Canada, is known both for being the country’s main oil production center and for being the site of the worst disaster in modern Canadian history, when it was swept by fire in 2016.

“We’re seeing extreme fire behavior,” which is being “pushed toward the city by the wind,” Alberta fire spokeswoman Jose St. Onze said during a news conference.

The fire, which has already turned 96,000 hectares of forest land into rubble, is now only 13 kilometers from the city. Residents of four of its southern suburbs were thus ordered to leave immediately yesterday afternoon.

Images uploaded to social media sites show huge queues of cars leaving the area. Many residents still bear the trauma of the chaos that prevailed during the hasty evacuation in 2016, when 90,000 residents tried to leave via the only road leading to the city, which is surrounded by forest.

“Smoke reduces visibility and it is difficult to determine exact distances,” noted Ms. St. Onge, who added that “firefighters were withdrawn from the front line for safety reasons.”

However, things “are very different from 2016. We have plenty of resources and we are in a much better position to deal with the situation,” reassured Jody Butch, chief of the fire department in the district.

Canada holds 10% of the world’s black gold reserves, much of which is in the tar sands. Every day, nearly 3 million barrels of oil are extracted from these sands, according to official government figures, helping to make Canada the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and the largest exporter of crude to the US.

Further west, where thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate over the weekend, on the outskirts of the British Columbia provincial town of Fort Nelson, the situation was improving yesterday.

“It’s cold, it’s cloudy and there’s a light wind,” Rob Fraser, the mayor of Fort Nelson, told AFP. “If the situation remains like this, we may be able to bring this beast under control,” he added.

Emergency air quality warnings were issued for all of Canada and parts of the US: smoke from the fires spread as far south as the US state of Oklahoma, and as far east as the Canadian province of Quebec.