A massive wildfire in Alberta, Canada has forced the largest fire evacuation in the province's history. Officials have cautioned that the fire is expected to spread further due to high winds and "tinder dry" conditions.
The Alberta government said in a special briefing on Thursday that more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting fires in the western Canadian province.
"There are 49 wildfires burning in Alberta," provincial Premier Rachel Notley told a press conference. Of those fires burning, seven are currently considered to be "out of control."
Notley added that the fire has grown to roughly 85,000 hectares (210,035 acres) in size.
Although she called it "a large fire," she added that a previous fire in 2011 grew to around 600,000 hectares in size.
"We have dealt with them," Notley assured.
Officials told the press conference that more than 80,000 people had been evacuated from the northern oil sands town of Fort McMurray since Tuesday.
The communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation, an aboriginal reservation, were added to the evacuation orders overnight after the fires moved south.
The region is a hub for Canada's crude oil production, which has been dealt a severe blow thanks to the fire forcing thousands of people to flee. However, officials have said the actual infrastructure used to produce the oil and gas remains largely intact.
On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "the largest fire evacuation in Alberta's history."
"Homes have been destroyed. Neighborhoods have gone up in flames. The footage we've seen of cars racing down highways while fire races on all sides is nothing short of terrifying," Trudeau told parliament.
Officials announced they would like to move 25,000 evacuees who previously fled north to the south due to the "unpredictable nature" of the blaze
"Our focus right now is on getting those people south as quickly as possible," said Notley.
Fire to spread further
According to officials, the fire is expected to spread later on Thursday due to high winds and "tinder dry" conditions.
"The extreme fire behavior began to create its own weather, even creating its own high winds yesterday," said Chad Morrison of AB Wildfire. "Even lightning was coming from the smoke clouds created by the fire."
Morrison said the fire likely started in a remote forest area and could have been due to a lighting strike. However, he added that the direct cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The blaze has so far torched 1,600 homes and other buildings in Fort McMurray, but there have been no reported injuries or deaths from the fires.
Alberta declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.
rs/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)