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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Matthew Woo; Kathy Tin Ying Hui; Kai Ernn Gan; Amy Kim
Publication Date: 2017

The May 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada—the costliest wildfire disaster in Canadian history—led to an areawide evacuation by road and air. Traffic count and flight data were used to assess the characteristics of the evacuation, including estimates of people movements by vehicle and aircraft. The vehicle counts were compared first with historic values to examine traffic patterns and were then used to create an evacuation response curve, which revealed an expected S-shaped curve and highlighted how quickly the evacuation occurred. Finally, data for people evacuated by aircraft were combined with data for people evacuated by ground vehicle to construct a curve of the cumulative number of evacuees leaving the region. This study identified several key implications for evacuation planning and operations. The decision to evacuate residents to temporary shelters in the north was instrumental in the quick removal of everyone from immediate danger via all possible exits. Although an unplanned contraflow operation added roadway capacity out of Fort McMurray, the underuse of the secondary route suggested that the management of traffic routing might have reduced congestion. The evacuation response curve emphasized the volatility of the wildfires, with the resulting evacuations occurring under conditions of a greater immediacy than hurricane evacuations. Finally, the significant role of air transportation in this evacuation indicated that multimodal emergency evacuation plans may be critical for remote communities and sparse networks. These findings may be applied to evacuation planning and policy to improve the efficiency and efficacy of evacuations.

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Citation: Woo, Matthew; Hui, Kathy Tin Ying; Ren, Kexin; Gan, Kai Ernn; Kim, Amy. 2017. Reconstructing an emergency evacuation by ground and air: the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Transportation Research Record 2604:63-70.

Cataloging Information

Aviation    Fire Occurrence    Logistics    Planning    Safety
  • Canada
  • evacuation
  • evacuation routes
  • Fort McMurray Fire
  • wildfire evacuations
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 25791