Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Officials Say It Could Take Months to Extinguish Massive Alberta Blaze

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Officials Say It Could Take Months to Extinguish Massive Alberta Blaze

Article excerpt

Long fight ahead in Fort McMurray blaze

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - Fire officials are bracing themselves for a long, long fight against the blaze that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray and has eaten up more than 2,000 square kilometres of northern Alberta forest.

"Unless we have a significant rain event of 100 millimetres of rain, we expect to be out fighting the fire in the forested area for months to come," Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfires told a media briefing Saturday afternoon.

"That's not uncommon with such large fires."

As for the city of Fort McMurray, he said he expected they would get a good handle on the situation "over the next coming month or two."

There still is no timeline for any of the 80,000 evacuated residents to be allowed back into their homes, but the Alberta government has begun preliminary planning, though it stresses fighting the fire is still the first priority.

Fire officials said the wind whipped inferno doubled in size Saturday, and depending on the weather, could reach the Saskatchewan border by early Sunday morning.

The good news was that the fire was burning away from communities. Premier Rachel Notley said firefighters continued working to protect the downtown and homes in Fort McMurray and held the line for a second straight day.

She added the gas supply has been turned off in the city and the power grid has been damaged. Water in the city isn't drinkable and hazardous material will have to be cleaned up to make the community safe.

"The return won't be in coming days," said the premier. "Once the immediate fire damage is completed there will be an enormous amount of work to do to make the city safe and habitable."

RCMP Insp. Kevin Kunetzki said Saturday that during their checks of houses in the city, officers are seeing significant signs of water and smoke damage.

Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said that may have been one of the costs of protecting the community.

He said firefighters use large, industrial sprinklers to "spray continuous amounts of water on houses to protect them from embers, sparks, etc., from spontaneous combustion, from the heat. So it's quite possible there could be water damage. …

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