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Wildfire rages on, expected to spread


Wildfire rages on, expected to spread

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GREGOIRE LAKE – A raging Canadian wildfire grew explosively on Saturday as hot, dry winds pushed the blaze across the energy heartland of Alberta and smoke forced the shutdown of a major oil sands project.

The fire that has already prompted the evacuation of 88 000 people from the city of Fort McMurray was on its way to doubling in size on Saturday, the seventh day of what is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history.

With temperatures on Saturday expected to rise as high as 28 Celsius, the weather was hindering efforts to fight the wildfire. Officials said it was still burning out of control and expected to keep pushing to the northeast.

“In these conditions officials tell us the fire may double in size in the forested areas today. As well, they may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told a media briefing.

She said it was clear Fort McMurray residents would not be able to return anytime soon, noting the city’s gas has been turned off, its power grid was damaged and the water is not drinkable.

The fire had scorched at least 385 000 acres) by Saturday morning, the Alberta government said.

The full extent of property losses in Fort McMurray has yet to be determined, but one analyst estimated insurance losses could exceed C$9 billion (US$7 billion).

More than 500 fire fighters are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers, the Alberta government said.

Within Fort McMurray, visibility is often less than 30 feet due to the smoke, making it still very dangerous to circulate in the city, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Kevin Kunetzki told reporters at a highway checkpoint.

Syncrude oil sands project said Saturday it will shut down its northern Alberta operation and remove all personnel from the site due to smoke. There was no imminent threat from the fire. (Reuters)