Fort McMurray / AFP
Authorities battling a forest fire in Canada looked to Mother Nature for more help on Monday, as cooling temperatures and rain slowed the spread of the blaze that had forced the evacuation of an entire city.
There was more good news too, with the amount of land charred less than originally feared and the last of 25,000 people trapped north of Fort McMurray in Alberta province safely evacuated in road convoys through the ruined oil city.
Oil facilities have escaped major damage, officials said, and there have been no fatalities directly linked to the blaze.
Alberta premier Rachel Notley and other officials said the fires raging for days around Fort McMurray were moving “much, much more slowly” thanks to a bit of rain and cooler temperatures. Authorities had worried the fire could spread east to Saskatchewan province, but Notley said that had not happened yet.
The fire’s eastern edge was 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Saskatchewan and estimates of the area destroyed were lowered from 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) to about 1,600 square kilometers.
The ruthless blaze, fanned by high winds and fueled by tinder-dry conditions, devastated Fort McMurray and the region around it. The city was home to 100,000 until it was evacuated last week as flames burned homes to the ground amid scenes of panic and mass
Chad Morrison, senior wildfire manager for Alberta, said Sunday that favorable weather conditions and the hard work of about 500 firefighters had contained most fire lines in Fort McMurray.
The threat to oil-sand mines north of the city had also diminished, at least for now, he said.Morrison said fire lines had moved away from the work sites of Nexen, a unit of the Chinese group CNOOC, after inflicting only minor damage.
Work sites of the Suncor petroleum group, which suspended operations in the area, had also been spared.
The company said Sunday it had moved 10,000 people including employees, their families and local residents to safety.
Morrison said firefighters hoped rains and cooler temperatures predicted for Monday and winds from the west, gusting up to 60 kilometers per hour (35 mph), would keep the flames away from the petroleum work camps in coming days.
Even as fellow Canadians rally to provide succor and support, thousands of evacuees are coming to terms with the likelihood that they will be unable to see their homes anytime soon — assuming the dwellings are still standing.