Canada Braces for Spread of Wildfire as 80,000 Evacuated in Alberta

MONTREAL (dpa/TNS) -

Canadian fire crews were bracing on Wednesday for another hot and dry day as they battle a raging wildfire in the northern Alberta municipality of Fort McMurray, where strong winds threaten to fan up the blaze that engulfed whole neighborhoods the previous day.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen said that firefighters had managed to bring some of the fires under control, but said there were still concerns about fires outside the city, which had evacuated its 80,000 residents on Tuesday.

“Firefighting staff have worked throughout the night, and all fires within the city have been extinguished,” Allen said.

“There are still some hotspots in the wildland, and that mixed with the wildland fire outside the city is what we are worried about for the rest of the day.”

Fire crews from across Alberta drove through the night to reinforce fire brigades in Fort McMurray, the heartland of Canada’s oil sands industry.

Alberta’s premier Rachel Notley made an official request for federal assistance on Tuesday night, with offers of help coming from across Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Canada will be there for the people of Fort McMurray.

“Canada is a country where we look out for our neighbors,” Trudeau said.

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, currently in Germany attending a conference on the Islamic State, said the Canadian military would make all assets available.

The fire destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses after shifting winds pushed the flames into the southwest of the city Tuesday afternoon, overwhelming firefighters.

The city’s area of Beacon Hill appears to have been hardest hit. Officials tweeted that 80 percent of the homes there had been destroyed.

Tens of thousands of people clogged the highways trying to escape the fast-moving inferno. About 20,000 people were expected in the provincial capital Edmonton. Thousands more have sought shelter in camps for oil sands workers north of the city.

Shell Canada has announced that it has opened its work camps for all evacuees.

Oil companies operating in the Fort McMurray area have announced that they will be curtailing production to allow employees “to get to safety.”