Provincial officials take tour of fire ravaged areas of Fort McMurray
Alberta's premier toured Fort McMurray on Monday to take a look at the damage and officials say firefighters were able to protect several key pieces of infrastructure, including the airport, hospital, and water treatment plant.
The fire grew over the weekend and now covers over 200,000 hectares.
Notley and Mayor Melissa Blake toured the fire zone along with city planners and some members of the media by bus.
“I will say that I was very much struck by the power of the devastation of the fire. It was really quite overwhelming in some spots,” said Notley. “I was similarly struck by the proximity of that devastation to neighbourhoods that were untouched and it reinforced to me how much work and how much success was achieved over the last few days by those heroic firefighters.”
Notley says about 2400 structures were lost but almost 25,000 were saved.
"So we lost a bit more than 10 percent of the city compared to say the roughly 30 percent that was lost at Slave Lake," she said.
"What I saw were the homes that still stand, almost 90 percent are still up. I saw our infrastructure that was still 100 percent intact on the outside that needs a little rejigging on the inside," said Mayor Blake. "We have had our loss, we do have our resilience and I have absolute faith that we will have our community back."
Fire Chief Darby Allen told those on the tour that he estimates 85 percent of the homes and businesses in the northern Alberta community are still intact and said that a few on the edges of the downtown were lost but most were saved.
“The good news is, there are many, many areas that are untouched,” he said. "We’re ready for the future and when we get you back, we can build the future together.
Fire officials say cooler weather on Monday should help firefighters to contain the blaze.
“The fire is still out of control,” said Matthew Anderson, wildfire information officer with the province. “It did grow a bit to the southwest and to the east, however, not as much as was anticipated, but we were still experiencing extreme fire behavior and that was due to the really gusty winds, up to 70 k, with that front that moved through the other day, however, today is looking to be, what we call a good firefighting day, the temperatures are really going to be down, single to ten, kind of digits, the humidity will be increased as well and the winds are going to be lighter so that’s certainly a help for the crews that are working on this one.”
Officials say the priority is to save and protect critical infrastructure in the communities that have not yet been affected and to limit the spread of the fire overall but that it could take several months to extinguish it completely.
“The way it grew so quickly. It was one week ago, yesterday, when it started and it was about 60 hectares and one week later it’s at 160,000 hectares, that was the result of extremely dry fuels in the forest, tinder-dry is a great descriptor, and that’s the result of the weather as well,” said Anderson. “As they move through, they’ll get this, they’ll move it from out of control to being held and then under control as we move through our processes.”
ATCO workers are in the area working to determine when the power grid can go back online and more than 700 firefighters from across the country are currently battling the blaze.
"First responders and repair crews have weeks of work ahead of them to make the city safe for the people of Fort McMurray and surrounding communities, but it is going to be made safe. It is a home you will return to and we're going to work together to get this job done," said the premier.
The premier is also expected to meet with oil executives on Tuesday to talk about the impact on oil production.
Since the fire, several oil operations have shut down at a loss of about 1 million barrels per day.
Fort McMurray remains under a mandatory evacuation order and residents are asked not to return until it is deemed safe to do so.
"Don't drive the four hours only to be told by the RCMP at the check points outside of Fort McMurray that you have to turn around and go all the way back," said Notley. "There are smouldering hot spots everywhere."
Residents have until 11:59 p.m. Monday to register with the Canadian Red Cross, click HERE for more information.
Families with more than eight people are asked to register by phone at 1-888-350-6070.
A telephone town hall for evacuees will be held on May 9, 10,11 and 12 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., click HERE to listen online.
(With files from cvtvnews.ca)