Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, near Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)

The images are ones of devastation—scorched homes, virtually whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. It rained a little Sunday morning in Fort McMurray, but Canadian officials say they expect to fight the massive wildfire that has destroyed large parts of Alberta's oil sands town for months.

There's fear the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even cross into the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

The Alberta government said the massive blaze in the province will cover more than 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) by Sunday and continue to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds. Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire said it's not uncommon to fight such an inferno in forested areas for months.

Morrison said the fire was burning away from communities this weekend. He expected cooler temperatures along with the rain Sunday, but significant rainfall is needed to put out the flames.

The Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, tweeted a picture of the rainfall and wrote: "It was only for a few minutes but the sight of rain has never been so good." Alberta Premier Rachel Notley retweeted the picture and wrote "Here's hoping for much more!"

Just over 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Fort McMurray, the main highway into town is blocked off by barricades and police vehicles. More than a dozen media vehicles were parked near the barrier, along with a few volunteers who had trailers full of supplies.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, near Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

One trailer had a sign on back that said "Fort Mac Bound." It carried supplies like clothing, Gatorade and protein bars for firefighters and EMTs, said Steve Jeges, of Olds, Alberta. He said he and others accepted donations for four days in Olds before heading here.

"If our services are needed, we're staying, he said.

Nearby, 22-year-old Sydney Robinson of Acme, Alberta stood near a trailer she had filled with clothing, water, food and about 20 kennels for animals. She came up on Thursday in hopes that she could help retrieve animals that were left behind in homes, but has not yet been able to get into Fort McMurray.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, near Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)

"I just want to help in any way I can," she said.

Trailer trucks bringing three bulldozers passed through the barricade as did other authorized vehicles with supplies.

Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen asked for the patience of residents who are eager to find out if their home has been destroyed.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
Authorities stand at a checkpoint on the highway to Fort McMurray, Alberta as wildfires burn Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Ryan Remiorz /The Canadian Press via AP)

"We are really working hard on that, it's a complicated process, what's damaged, what's left," Allen said in a posted video. "We really will get that to you as soon as we possibly can. We care about all of you."

Officials had hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Fort McMurray on Saturday. Thousands of displaced residents got a drive-by view of some of the burned-out neighborhoods as convoys continued. No deaths or injuries have been reported since the fire started last Sunday.

Notley said about 12,000 evacuees have been airlifted from oil sands mine air fields over the past two days, and about 7,000 have left in highway convoys escorted by police. She said the goal was to complete the evacuation from northern work camps by Sunday.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
A dog sleeps with his owner as evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires continue to arrive at an evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

The fire could reach the edges of the Suncor oil sands facility, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Fort McMurray. Non-essential staff have been evacuating and efforts to protect the site were under way.

Notley, however, said that the facility was highly resilient to forest fires. Oil sands mines are cleared and have no vegetation.

Morrison said the fire wasn't expected to reach the oil sands mines north of Suncor.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires sit outside at an evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

The fire and mass evacuation has forced a quarter or more of Canada's oil output offline and was expected to impact an economy already hurt by the fall in the price of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray where some neighborhoods have been destroyed.

More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada' oil sands, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings. Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is not drinkable. Officials said there is no timeline to return residents to the city, but the Alberta government has begun preliminary planning, though it stresses fighting the fire is still the first priority.

About 25,000 evacuees moved north in the hours after Tuesday's mandatory evacuation, where work camps that usually house employees were used to house evacuees. Officials are moving everyone south where it is safer.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
Flames from a wildfire billow into the sky south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had no immediate plans to visit the region. "We don't want to distract from the important work right now," Kate Purchase, a spokeswoman for Trudeau said.

The 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) size estimate for the fire includes burned areas and those areas still in flames. The fire started last Sunday and has destroyed about than 2,000 square kilometers (772 miles) of northern Alberta forest.

Saskatchewan Emergency Management Commissioner Duane McKay said there is heavy smoke in south west Saskatchewan, but no imminent threat of fire to any communities in the province that neighbors Alberta. McKay said the fire remains 15 to 20 kilometers from the Saskatchewan border and 60 to 70 kilometers from any communities in the province. He said whether it crosses the border over depends on weather but they don't see it happening Sunday.

Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
A convoy of cars and trucks pass a wildfire as they are evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 south of the city on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)

Lac La Biche, Alberta, normally a sleepy town of 2,500 about 175 kilometers (109 miles) south of Fort McMurray, was helping thousands of evacuees, providing a place to sleep, food, donated clothes and even shelter for their pets.

Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesman for Lac La Biche County, said that 4,400 evacuees have come through The Bold Center, a sports facility in town. At the center, tables were piled with clothes, towels and other items. The center was offering three free meals a day and other services, including mental health services. A kennel housed people's pets on site.

  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Police watch a convoy of cars and trucks pass a wildfire as they are evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, south of the city on Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Kirby Abo, a member of Ironworkers Local 720, grills up bologna outside of an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. More than 4,000 wildfire evacuees have come through the center this week. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Wildfire evacuees sort through clothes and other items at an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. More than 4,000 wildfire evacuees have come through the center this week. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Shane Hannah plays with 9-month-old Muncho, a mixed breed dog, at an animal care center at an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. More than 4,000 wildfire evacuees have come through the center this week. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Smoke rises from the forest on Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared a massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Firefighters from Ontario arrive to help fight the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Firefighters from Ontario are briefed prior to heading into Fort McMurray, Alberta, south of the city on Highway 63, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared a massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Firefighters from Ontario are briefed prior to heading into Fort McMurray, Alberta, south of the city on Highway 63, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared a massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Evacuees drive past a wildfire south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Ryan Remiorz /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Evacuees drive past a wildfire south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Ryan Remiorz /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    A convoy of evacuees drive past a wildfire south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Ryan Remiorz /The Canadian Press via AP)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    A helicopter carrying Agriculture and Forestry firefighters returning from a patrol mission takes off after refueling at a helipad in Lac La Biche, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. The firefighters in Lac La Biche are focusing on recent wildfires that have broken out since the one at Fort McMurray. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Leslie Lozinski, spokeswoman for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, talks to the media about firefighting resources based at a helipad in Lac La Biche, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. The firefighters in Lac La Biche are focusing on recent wildfires that have broken out since the one at Fort McMurray. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
  • Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months
    Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires stand at an evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials feared the massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

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Citation: Massive Alberta wildfire expected to burn for months (2016, May 8) retrieved 3 April 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2016-05-massive-alberta-wildfire-months.html
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