The 88,000 residents who fled a wildfire that has ravaged the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray in Alberta will not be able to return home anytime soon, officials warned on Thursday, as the authorities are set to continue the airlift of thousands of people.
The out-of-control blaze has consumed entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in the country’s energy heartland and officials warn its spread now threatens two oil sands sites south of the city.
The wildfire has already forced precautionary production cuts or shutdowns at about a dozen major facilities, eating into a global crude surplus and supporting oil prices this week.
“The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing late Thursday.
“It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days,” she said.
Officials airlifted 8,000 people on Thursday and will continue the airlift Friday, while a mass migration of cars will move south in the morning.
The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting the fire, but Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention, said rain is needed.
“Let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire,” he said. “It is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain.”
Officials flew 8,000 evacuees to Edmonton and Calgary by Thursday night. They hope the highway will become safe enough on Friday to move the remaining people out via the south. It was not safe Thursday.
A helicopter will lead the evacuation convoy on Friday morning to make sure the highway is safe. It will pass through Fort McMurray where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.
Notley said the first convoy will be 400 vehicles and officials would see how that goes.
There have been no injuries or death in the province from the fires.