Rain, cool weather and weak winds helping slow Fort McMurray wildfire's growth

The wildfire’s size is now smaller than previously reported, but only because a more accurate assessment of its size has been done.

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The wildfire burning southwest of Fort McMurray was smaller on Thursday morning, but not because of the rain. However a separate wildfire that was discovered north of Parsons Creek on Wednesday is no longer spreading. Officials consider it held.

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Alberta Wildfire says the wildfire to the southwest, known as MWF-017, is 19,820 hectares. The smaller size is because emergency officials have been able to do a more accurate scan of the wildfire’s perimeter. This does not mean the wildfire has shrank. The fire remains 5.5 kilometres from the landfill and 4.5 kilometres from the intersection of highways 63 and 881.

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The wildfire’s growth slowed last night because of rain, cooler temperatures and weaker winds. That weather is expected to continue helping firefighters today.

Do not get complacent because of the rain,” said Josee St-Onge, a wildfire information officer with Alberta Wildfire, at a Thursday press conference. “It will take time and hard work to put out a wildfire of this size. there is still an abundance of dried forest fuels in the area, and this wildfire is still active.”

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There are 172 firefighters and 22 helicopters battling the wildfire today. Another 57 pieces of heavy equipment are building and maintaining fire guards between the wildfire and the city. Three helicopters with night vision dumped more than 31,000 gallons of water on the wildfire last night.

Sprinklers are being deployed in Abasand. They have already been installed in Beacon Hill, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMuray 468 First Nation’s Gregoire Lake reserve, Prairie Creek and the Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

I’m extremely pleased with the amount of preparedness in the defense systems that we have in place,” said Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz at a Thursday press conference.

Workers inspect sprinklers blasting water at trees outside Gregoire Lake Estates as a precautionary measure against wildfires on May 15, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Butz says evacuees should plan to be gone until at least May 21. This is not a guarantee that the RMWB will on that date reopen the neighbourhoods of Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace or Prairie Creek. The province will issue financial relief for evacuees if the evacuation lasts at least seven days.

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Butz also said no buildings have been damaged from the construction of fire breaks. All utilities, including power and natural gas, has remained in place.

“When you return home, your neighborhood will look exactly the same,” he said.

People will be allowed to return when the wildfire is no longer a risk to the community, not when it is fully extinguished. Once the wildfire is contained and no longer spreading, crews will slowly chip away at its size by extinguishing hot spots.

This is a long process. The 2016 Horse River Wildfire, for instance, was spotted on May 1, 2016 and brought under control on July 4. It was officially extinguished 15 months later on August 2, 2017. The wildfire burned as embers during the fall and smouldered underground.

“We don’t want to speculate but this is long work, and this wildfire will be a reality for weeks and months,” said St-Onge.

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