Massive wildfire wreaks havoc amid Canada′s oil sands; thousands evacuated | News | DW | 07.05.2016
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Massive wildfire wreaks havoc amid Canada's oil sands; thousands evacuated

The fire remains out of control, and officials say lots of rain is needed, but that doesn't appear likely. However, unseasonably hot temperatures are expected to plunge in the days ahead.

A massive wildfire, among several, continues to burn out of control in Alberta, Canada, and officials fear the size of the inferno could increase more than two-fold.

Nearly 90,000 people have been evacuated from Fort McMurray, at the center of Canada's oil sands. Thousands more, including 12,000 by air, have been evacuated from other areas as the fire continues to spread, and explode in size.

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Canadian wildfire continues to spread

High winds, unusually hot temperatures and little rain in recent months have turned the pine forest into kindling.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the massive wildfire covered more than 385,476 acres (156,000 hectares) late Friday and was expected to grow because of the aforementioned conditions. That size includes burned areas and those areas still in flames.

"The fire may double in size in the forested areas today," Notley said. "As well they may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control."

There are no known deaths or injuries from the hellfire, but more than 1,600 homes and other structures have been demolished by the flames.

The charred remains of a classic Triumph GT6 in Fort McMurray, Canada.

Charred remains of a Triumph GT6 in Fort McMurray

Scenes of devastation

In areas already torched, residents were often left with little more than scenes of devastation that included burned-out neighborhoods littered with charred homes and torched trucks.

The devastation and the evacuation of local populations have forced the shutdown of at least 25 percent of Canada's oil production. The disaster is expected to hit the Canadian economy, which is already hurting from exceptionally low oil prices.

The Alberta oil sands are home to the third-largest oil reserves in the world, only trailing behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Syncrude is the latest major oil sands mining company to shut down operations. There is no imminent threat to the plant but smoke from the fire is encroaching on the facility. The plant is being evacuated over the weekend, and the company said operations will resume when the threat passes, but no time table was given for when that might be.

"This is a highly dangerous situation," Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. He said the fire is feeding off the "extremely dry" boreal forest.

More than 500 firefighters, along with 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers, are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, according to the Alberta government. But experts say what they really need is rain - and lots of it.

Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be much chance of that in the coming days. But daytime temperatures that have been above 80 fahrenheit (27 celsius) are expected to plunge into the 50s (10-15 celsius) in coming days, with nighttime temperatures at or near freezing.

bik/bw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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