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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Canada wildfire may worsen amid mass evacuation

High winds and hot temperatures may worsen a huge wildfire that has forced the entire population of a Canadian city to be evacuated, officials say.
Some 80,000 people in Fort McMurray, in Alberta province, fled as the flames headed to the centre of the city.
One district lost 80% of its homes. Extra firefighters were deployed to tackle a fire of 26.5 sq km (2,650 hectares). No injuries were reported.
Help from the army and air force is being sent but may take two days.
The blaze broke out south-west of the city on Sunday. Firefighters appeared to have a measure of control by Tuesday until a drastic wind shift overwhelmed them.


Alberta agriculture and forestry manager Bernie Schmitte said: "The worst of the fire is not over. We're still faced with very high temperatures, low relative humidity and some strong winds."
The chief of Fort McMurray's fire department, Darby Allen, said on Wednesday that wooded areas in the city were still ablaze and he was concerned about the wind direction.
"It could be even more devastating, unfortunately," he told CBC.
He said of the task facing his staff on Wednesday: "I think, based on the conditions ... we're going to face a day that's fairly similar [to Tuesday]. We may... still be in fire extinguishment mode."
He added: "It's a nasty, ugly fire and it's not showing any forgiveness. The community is going to be devastated. This is going to go on. This is going to take us a while to come back from."
Brian Jean, leader of Alberta's opposition, said on Tuesday night: "I'm afraid that huge parts of my home town.. may burn tonight and will continue to burn.
"My home of the last 10 years and the home I had for 15 years before that are both destroyed."
The Beacon Hill suburb was said to have lost 80% of its homes, with serious losses also reported in Abasand and Waterway. One street in Timberlea lost a dozen trailer homes.
Some 150 firefighters are tackling the blaze, backed up by nine air tankers and more than a dozen helicopters, officials say.

'Roofs coming down'

Tens of thousands of people took to the roads that were still passable to flee the city, creating long lines of vehicles.
Communities were throwing open their doors to help the evacuees, although many headed towards Edmonton, Alberta's capital, some 270 miles (430km) away.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called it the "biggest evacuation... in the history of the province".
She said the priority was to get people safely out of the city and find enough spaces in evacuation camps for everybody.
One fleeing city resident, Cassie White, told the Globe and Mail flames had crossed a road and blown up a petrol station.
She told the paper: "There were flames maybe 15ft high right off the highway. There was a dump truck on fire - I had to swerve around it - and there was a pickup truck on fire as well. The entire trailer park on my right was in flames. Roofs were coming down."
The federal government said it was closely monitoring the situation and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it stood ready to help.
Fort McMurray is a major centre of Canada's oil sands industry - with vast oil reserves - and a major evacuation of staff was ordered.
Suncor Energy said its main plant was so far safe but crude production was being cut.
Shell Canada said it was opening its camp to evacuees.

Fort McMurray: Canada's 'manliest' city

On its tourism website, Fort McMurray describes itself as the "gateway to the north" - a region which is home to the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
It may be remote, but Fort McMurray's proximity to Canada's rich oil sands has helped it to become a hugely prosperous place, drawing oil workers from across the world.
It is not strictly speaking a city, but such has become Fort McMurray's importance in the region that it is commonly referred to as one.
Canada's National Post called Fort McMurray 'Canada's manliest city' where men outnumber women by roughly three to two.

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