9 May 2016

A fifth of Fort McMurray burnt to the ground

9:17 pm on 9 May 2016

About a fifth of homes have been destroyed in Fort McMurray, a Canadian city ravaged by a huge wildfire, the local MP says.

The ferocious wildfire wreaking havoc in Canada has doubled in size.

The ferocious wildfire wreaking havoc in Canada has doubled in size. Photo: AFP/Alberta RCMP/HO

After touring the damage David Yurdiga said it might be years before the city was running normally again.

More than 100,000 residents of the city and surrounding area fled after an evacuation order was issued.

Officials say the fire, now burning for a week, grew more slowly at the weekend than first feared.

Firefighters held key areas and the blaze now covers about 1610 sq km - less than the 1800 sq km estimated on Saturday.

Mr Yurdiga said while most of the city was intact the area was still too dangerous for residents to return home.

"An estimate: 20 percent of the homes have been burnt, but the majority of homes are standing, no damage at all," Mr Yurdiga said.

"So you know what? It's a lot better than I thought it was."

On Sunday, fire chiefs spoke of getting a "death grip" on the fire, which has been fed by hot weather and tinder dry terrain.

"With a little help from mother nature and a bit of a break in the weather, and all the hard work of all the firefighters we were able to hold most of the line in Fort McMurray," said Alberta wildfire manager Chad Morrison.

But it could be months before the fire is fully brought under control. Officials warned only significant rainfall could fully halt its spread.

The fire is being blown east away from communities, but still threatens to cross from Alberta province into neighbouring Saskatchewan.

Air quality warnings have been issued for Saskatchewan and Northwest Territory and locals have been advised to close windows and doors due to smoke.

Smoke fills the air as a police officer stands guard at a roadblock along Highway 63 leading into Fort McMurray on May 8, 2016 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

Smoke fills the air as a police officer stands guard at a roadblock along Highway 63 leading into Fort McMurray Photo: AFP

One report said the blaze had already spilled into neighbouring Saskatchewan but this has not been confirmed.

Two fires have been approaching the border, the closest about 22km away, officials told CBC.

Chad Morrison of the Alberta Wildfire authority said it was moving away from communities and some rain was due Sunday (local time).

About 25,000 people headed north after the mandatory order to leave Fort McMurray was issued.

Most have since been escorted south by road or air and the Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, said she hoped to complete evacuations by the end of the Sunday.

The fire is expected to be the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, with insurance costs alone already running into billions of dollars.

The blaze ruined entire neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, with residents warned it could be some time before they were able to return.

And officials say the power grid is damaged and the water undrinkable.

Some 1600 homes and other buildings have been lost but no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitor the Fort McMurray Wildfire.

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitor the Fort McMurray Wildfire. Photo: AFP/AFP PHOTO / Alberta RCMP/HO

In the rush to leave, some Fort McMurray residents were forced to flee without their pets and a website has been set up so volunteers can reach stranded animals.

"We're hearing about lots of dogs and cats, but also one guy has 32 geckos that need rescue," Shannon Orell-Bast told the Globe and Mail.

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze with helicopters, air tankers and other heavy equipment.

Nick Waddington from the Fort McMurray Fire Department said one crew member saw his house burn down before going on to work an 18-hour shift.

Fort McMurray is in the heart of Canada's oil sands country, and the region has the world's third-largest reserves of oil.

As much as a quarter of the country's oil production has been halted by the fire, raising concerns about the effect on the Canadian economy.

There are warnings the blaze could burn to the edge of a facility run by Suncor Energy but officials said the risk of damage was low.

-BBC

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