Cooler weather for fire-struck Canadian city, after more evacuations

Thu May 5, 2016 7:57am EDT
 
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By Rod Nickel

ANZAC, Alberta May 5 (Reuters) - Cooler weather and possible rain forecast for the Canadian city overwhelmed by wildfire offered hope on Thursday that controlling the blaze could become easier, after worsening conditions forced new evacuations south of town.

Late on Wednesday, flames fanned south from Fort McMurray, the main city in Canada's oil sands region. Officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for the Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation communities, which are located about 50 km (31 miles) south of the battered city.

Officials on the scene were forced to evacuate their make-shift emergency operations center for the second time in the span of less than a day.

Major oil sands facilities were not in the path of the flames, but companies' efforts to help employees and evacuees and protect pipelines hit production and helped boost the price of crude.

Hot, dry, windy weather has made the massive wildfire all but impossible to control. The entire city of Fort McMurray was ordered to evacuate on Tuesday, and some 1,600 structures have been destroyed, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said on Wednesday.

Temperatures hit 31 degrees Celsius (88°F) on Wednesday. But on Thursday morning, Environment Canada forecast a high of 19 degrees Celsius and a 30 percent chance of rain.

But a government forecast map of potential fire intensity still showed some areas around Fort McMurray at class 6, the highest possible level.

Authorities said there had been no known casualties from the blaze itself, but fatalities were reported in at least one vehicle crash along the evacuation route.

Thousands bunked down for the night on Wednesday in arenas, hockey rinks and oil work camps that were often short of fuel and food.

(Reporting by Ethan Lou and Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)