Canadian officials say they expect the massive wildfire that has destroyed large parts of Alberta’s oil sands to continue burning for months.
The Alberta government said on Saturday the massive blaze in the province will cover more than 2,000sq km by Sunday and continue to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds.
Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention, said it is not uncommon to fight such an inferno in forested areas for months.
There is fear the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.
“In no way is this fire under control,” Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier, said.
No deaths or injuries have been reported since the fire started a week ago but thousands of people have been made homeless.
Notley said about 12,000 evacuees have been airlifted from oil sands mine air fields over the past two days, and about 7,000 have left in highway convoys escorted by police. She said the goal was to complete the evacuation from northern work camps by Sunday.
The fire could reach the edges of the Suncor oil sands facility, about 25km north of Fort McMurray. Non-essential staff have been evacuated and efforts have been made to protect the site.
Notley, however, said that the facility was highly resilient to forest fires. Oil sands mines are cleared and have no vegetation.
Low humidity, high temperatures nearing 30 degrees Celsius and gusty winds in forests and brush dried out from two months of drought are helping to fan the flames.
Cooler conditions expected
Environment Canada forecast a 40 percent chance of showers in the area on Sunday as cooler conditions were expected on Sunday and Monday.
Al Jazeera’s meteorologist Everton Fox said an area of rain is currently moving across Alberta and some of that rain is forecast to reach Fort McMurray.
“Unfortunately it will not be heavy or prolonged. In fact, we expect it to be light and rather patchy at times, and it is likely to fizzle out by Monday morning,” he said.
“It is, however, bringing cooler north or northwestern winds that will feed across the region, bringing the temperatures down.”
The mass evacuation has forced as much as a quarter of Canada’s oil output offline and is expected to affect a country already hurt by a dramatic fall in the price of oil. The Alberta provincial government has declared a state of emergency.
Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness in the heart of Canada’s oil sands – the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Last May, wildfires led to the evacuation of hundreds of workers from the region.