Canada Fire Rages for Seventh Day

The wildfire scorching through Canada's oil sands region in north-east Alberta had been expected to double in size on Sunday, threatening the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan, as it moved into its seventh day.

A ferocious wildfire wreaking havoc in Canada was expected to double in size on Saturday, May 7, officials warned, cautioning that the situation in the parched Alberta oil sands region was "unpredictable and unsafe".

Morrison said crews continue to secure the Anzac area, as well as protect Gregoire Lake Estates and the Fort McMurray First Nation.

Their communication is limited to short text messaging conversations because the fire department has been working tirelessly around the clock, said Medeiros.

Winds of up to 60 kph (37 mph) were fanning the flames, but there was a chance of rain and cooler temperatures later in the day. Thousands of displaced residents got a drive-by view of some of the burned-out neighborhoods as convoys continued.

The government for Wood Buffalo, the regional municipality in which Fort McMurray lies, reported a short burst of rain late Sunday morning.

"In no way is this fire under control", Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.

Syncrude, one of several oil companies in the region, announced that it had shut down its facility 50 kilometers north of Fort McMurray due to smoke, followed by Suncor, after the local authorities ordered them to evacuate personnel. Cenovus Energy Inc. said it was evacuating non-essential staff.

"These sites are very resilient to wildfire because they are largely clear of vegetation and trees and they also have highly trained industrial fire departments that know how to respond to these incidents", Morrison said.

Some 25,000 evacuees have all left oil sands work camps in north of the city.

Air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers had kept the fire from reaching those sites, said Morrison: "We'll see how the day goes, but with the cooler weather, I do expect to hold the fire there".

The fire and mass evacuation has forced a quarter or more of Canada's oil output offline, affecting an economy already hurt by the fall in the price of oil.

Through Friday and Saturday, police escorted thousands of evacuees who had been forced to flee north from Fort McMurray back through the burning town, to allow them to head south to Alberta's major cities. Officers wore masks as they checked homes.

Prolonged periods of heat and dry conditions have left much of western Canada a fire hazard, fuelling the flames that have threatened to consume Fort McMurray, but now the winds have begun to blow the fire away from the city.

With huge swathes of forest and brush, as well as whole neighbourhoods of the city, turned to ash - an area three-quarters the size of Luxembourg - firefighters battling the blaze are concentrating on saving vital infrastructure, including telecommunications, electric grids, gas and water lines. But the oil companies started evacuating their own employees, so the residents had to be moved again.

The last damage assessment estimated 1,600 structures, mostly homes, burned in the south and southwest areas of the city, 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

That would create a security and safety nightmare for first responders and a distraction they don't need.

This fire is an acute crisis for residents of Fort McMurray, but for the rest of the world, it's a reminder of a larger, slower-moving phenenomen: climate change.

"When a lot of these fires first started in the Peace a few weeks ago, we were seeing record-breaking temperatures, unusually and unseasonably dry conditions and then it turned into a ideal storm when we had a pretty significant wind event come through", said Kevin Skrepnek, a fire information officer.

Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesman for Lac La Biche County, said 4,400 evacuees had come through a sports center in the town.

The Canadian government is offering health and mental health services for the people who had to suddenly leave their homes, often with little preparation. And even if the much-needed rainfall arrives, Morrison warned that "we'll be here for weeks and weeks".

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