Rain and cooler temperatures have allowed firefighters to better assess the size of the Fort McMurray wildfire, and it’s bigger than previous estimates suggested.
The latest estimates peg the wildfire at 522,894 hectares on the Alberta side, and 2,496 hectares across the border into Saskatchewan, Laura Stewart, an Alberta wildfire information officer, confirmed Sunday afternoon.
While the fire was reported to be 504,443 hectares yesterday, Stewart said it hasn’t grown, rather the weather helped to clear smoke in the area allowing firefighters to better assess the size.
“Firefighters are making really great progress, taking advantage, of course, of these cooler temperatures,” she said, noting more rain is expected in the Fort McMurray area.
Fire conditions in northeastern Alberta remain extreme and the wildfire in Fort McMurray remains out of control, even with the cooler weather.
But that cooler, wet weather has allowed firefighters to reclassify the fire near Janvier, which was also reported as out of control on Saturday.
A lot more rain fell in the Janvier area and the 146-hectare fire is now being held, Stewart said, adding that it isn’t expected to grow any further. Sixteen other fires are also burning in the province.
There are 1,880 firefighters, 104 helicopters, 29 air tankers and 295 pieces of heavy equipment being used to fight wildfires across the province.
Random camping on public lands in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has been banned to prevent the need for firefighters to respond to other emergency situations.
On Saturday mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for seven oilsands sites including, Millenium, Borealis, Hudson, Noralta, and Ruth Lake lodge, as well as Suncor Base Plant and Syncrude Mildred Lake Plant.
Oilsands camps south of Anzac, including Nexen Long Lake, HML Lodge, Gregoire River, Nexen Kinosis, PTI Kinosis, PTI Anzac, Surmont and Cheecham Lodge, will begin a phased re-entry so assessment work can begin. Guest occupancy is not permitted until safety inspections are completed, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said in a news release Sunday.
Fort McMurray residents are expected to be able to start returning home on June 1 on a voluntary, phased basis. The municipality has released a timeline and map outlining the phased re-entry plan.
Atco employees are in the city working to restore critical utility infrastructure. As of Sunday afternoon gas service had been restored to 90 per cent of undamaged areas in Fort McMurray and more than 90 per cent of the city had electricity.
A boil-water advisory remains in effect for the Fort McMurray area and any work camps that draw water from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo water treatment plant. An air quality advisory has also been issued for the Fort McMurray area due to the wildfires.
While debit-card locations are now closed, financial assistance is still available through Alberta Works offices. Evacuees, who do not have insurance, or sufficient insurance, can also apply for financial assistance for temporary housing at Alberta Works offices.