Fort McMurray wildfire considered held, not expected to grow

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The wildfire burning southwest of Fort McMurray is not expected to grow anymore as of Sunday, according to wildfire officials. Thanks to rain, cool weather, fire breaks and the work of firefighters, the wildfire is considered held.

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The wildfire that caused the evacuation of four neighbourhoods on May 14 and scattered at least 6,600 people across the province is held at 19,451 hectares. It’s closest point to the city is 4.5 kilometres from the intersection of highways 63 and 881, and 5.5 kilometres from the Fort McMurray landfill.

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Now that the wildfire is contained and no longer spreading, firefighting crews will slowly chip away at its size by extinguishing hot spots.

Since May 16, more than 40mm of rain has drenched the wildfire area. Sprinkler systems designed to protect homes are being removed now that the wildfire is no longer growing. More than 25 kilometres of fire guards have been built southwest of Fort McMurray. There will be 40 heavy equipment operators that will extend a containment line around the wildfire’s perimeter.

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The wildfire, which is classified as MWF017, was first spotted on May 9. On May 10, all of Fort McMurray and Saprae Creek Estates was told to prepare for a potential evacuation when it was 25 kilometres away and 200 hectares. This warning extended to Anzac and the Fort McMurray 468 First Nation on May 11.

After an evacuation was ordered for Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace and Prairie Creek, people were told they could return home four days later on May 18.

A wildland firefighter tends to hot spots at a wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray. Image supplied by Alberta Wildfire

The wildfire itself will continue burning for months. The weather right now is cool and damp, but Alberta Wildfire spokesperson Josee St-Onge said on Saturday that smoke from the wildfire could be visible when the hot, dry summer weather returns.

“The reality is we live in the middle of the Boreal Forest at this time of year. We should always be prepared. Wildfire remains our number one risk, regardless of this fire or otherwise,” said Regional Fire Chief Butz on Saturday.

St-Onge says extinguishing a wildfire this size will be a long, slow process. The 2016 Horse River Wildfire, for instance, was spotted on May 1 and brought under control on July 4. It was officially extinguished 15 months later on August 2, 2017.

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