Canada: Cooler temperatures, rain give firefighters hope

  • PTI, Fort Mcmurray
  • Updated: May 10, 2016 00:51 IST
A plane flies low to dump fire retardant on wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Reuters)

Cooler temperatures and light rain have officials optimistic they’ve reached a turning point on getting a handle on a massive wildfire that has devastated parts of Canada’s oil sands town of Fort McMurray.

Alberta Premier Notley said the battle against the fire has stabilized to the point where she can visit and begin the next phase of the government’s operation to determine what must be done to eventually allow people to return to the city.

A massive evacuation of 25,000 residents displaced by the blaze also came to an end. 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 provincial government is sending in a team to do preliminary planning.

David Yurdiga, the member of Parliament for the area, toured Fort McMurray yesterday and said he was now more optimistic.

“We’ll be back on our feet a lot quicker than I thought we would be,” he told reporters at the roadblock just south of the city. “All of the key infrastructure is in place. Our hospital is standing. Our schools are standing. Our treatment plant is functioning.”

“I toured probably every neighbourhood in Fort McMurray and 80 percent of the homes are standing,” he said. “Some areas you don’t even know there was a fire.”

With cooler temperatures forecast for the next three or four days, Alberta fire official Chad Morrison said firefighters should be able to put out hot spots.

And it has allowed them to further protect Fort McMurray. He said he was very buoyed and happy that they are making great progress.

“It definitely is a positive point for us, for sure,” said Morrison, who answered yes when asked if the fight to contain the flames had a reached a turning point.

“We’re obviously very happy that we’ve held the fire better than expected,” he said. “This is great firefighting weather. We can really get in here and get a handle on this fire, and really get a death grip on it.”

Notley said the wildfire grew much more slowly than was feared and was now 161,000 hectares in size. She said the blaze was quite a bit smaller than had been expected on Saturday, when officials expected it to double in size. She added the city was safe for first responders.

It rained yesterday, and the 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.” Notley retweeted the picture and wrote “Here’s hoping for much more!”

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