A change in the weather has helped firefighters battling a massive blaze in Fort McMurray, a Canadian oil-sands town in the province of Alberta.
Cooler temperatures and light rain have officials sounding optimistic, hopeful that the wildfire — which continues to burn — might have reached a “turning point” that will lead to its containment.
“This is great firefighting weather,” Alberta fire official Chad Morrison said at a weekend news conference. “We can really get in there and really get a handle on this fire … get a death grip on it.”
Officials had expected the blaze to double in size on Saturday; instead, The Associated Press reports, it’s now slightly smaller than it was then.
Cooler weather is expected to continue for a few more days, Dan Karpenchuk reports for NPR.
Meanwhile, the government is taking this opportunity to evaluate the extent of the damage from the fire, which has forced 80,000 people to evacuate their homes.
“The premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, will travel to Fort McMurray today along with planners to begin the work of determining what needs to be done first and how to bring thousands of people back home.
“Crews will assess the damage as well as checking on infrastructure such as natural gas lines and the electrical power grid. Firefighters were able to keep the flames away from critical infrastructure such as the hospital and the water treatment plant.
“The last damage assessment, a week ago, estimated 1,600 homes and buildings had been destroyed.”
Fort McMurray — an outpost supported by the oil sands industry — was largely populated by people who had moved to town to work for the oil sands mines. Many workers had been hit hard by the recent drop in oil prices.
And for some, there might be a silver lining in the smoke.
Reuters spoke to a homeless evacuee from Fort McMurray, Terry MacDuff, who said he had nothing to lose in the fire and was “living like a king” at the Lac la Biche evacuation center. The wire service reports:
“At Lac La Biche, evacuees are given a place to sleep, access to health services, unlimited food and a gym full of clothes and goods donated from the community.
“MacDuff plans to return to Fort McMurray and believes that eventually more people will be put back to work as the city rebuilds.
” ‘This fire saved a lot of people. There will be a lot of work in the cleanup,’ he said.”