Officials hope rain, favourable winds aid in fight against Fort McMurray wildfire

A wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray, pictured here on May 11, grew rapidly over the weekend.   (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)
A wildfire southwest of Fort McMurray, pictured here on May 11, grew rapidly over the weekend. (Alberta Wildfire - image credit)

Residents of Fort McMurray remain under orders to prepare to leave their homes at a moment's notice as wildfire threatens the northeast Alberta community.

A wildfire burning of control, 16 kilometres southwest of the community, has put residents across the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo under evacuation alert.

After a weekend that saw the fire grow rapidly amid extreme conditions, fire officials are hoping light rain and favourable winds might help fire crews gain the upper hand.

The fire continues to burn out of control, about 12 kilometres west of Highway 63. The flames have now consumed 6,579 hectares of forest along the south side of the Athabasca River valley.

'A good window' 

The wildfire danger in the region remains extreme but there was a reprieve for firefighters on Sunday, thanks to overcast conditions.

Officials are optimistic the relatively calm weather will hold.

Light showers are expected Monday, with winds predicted to blow from the southeast at around 15 kilometres per hour, municipal officials said in their latest emergency update to the community.

"Fire activity is expected to remain low. More showers are expected tomorrow, which will help lower fire activity," reads a Sunday update posted to social media from the municipality.

"This will give firefighters a good window to make progress on containing the fire."

Officials with Alberta Wildfire and the municipality are expected to provide updates on the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray later today.

Strong winds drive fire growth

The fire grew rapidly over the weekend, driven by parched conditions and powerful winds. The fire estimated to cover 1,500 hectares on Saturday morning soon multiplied in size.

Winds pushed the wildfire southeast, away from Fort McMurray, but toward the community of Anzac.

In its Sunday update, Alberta Wildfire reported that heavy equipment made progress on establishing a fire guard on the northeast side of the fire.

Six crews of firefighters worked on establishing a containment line, with the support of 13 helicopters. Night vision-equipped helicopters have been dispatched to the fire frontline each night.

Structure protection was also installed on the industrial park located at the intersection of highways 63 and 881, officials said.

Work is expected to continue Monday to set up structure protection for homes and businesses at the Gregoire Lake Estates and the Fort McMurray 468 First Nation.

Smoke from the fire became so thick over the weekend, it threatened to close Highway 63, one of two southerly routes leading out of the community.

RCMP and provincial firefighters continue to monitor the situation but as of Monday morning, the wildfire had not moved toward the highway and the road remained open.

An evacuation alert remains in effect for residents of Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek Estates, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Anzac, and Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

Emergency officials have urged residents to remain calm but prepared to evacuate on short notice.