Sunday 25 September 2016

Cooler temperatures and rain give Canadian firefighters hope

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:46

Flames flare up from hotspots along the highway to Fort McMurray (The Canadian Press/AP)
Flames flare up from hotspots along the highway to Fort McMurray (The Canadian Press/AP)

Cooler temperatures and light rain have given Canadian officials hope that they have reached a turning point in tackling a massive wildfire that has devastated Fort McMurray.

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the battle against the fire has stabilised to the point where she can visit and begin the next phase of the government's operation to determine what must be done to eventually allow people to return to the city.

A massive evacuation of 25,000 residents displaced by the blaze also came to an end.

More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada's oil sands, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.

Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is not drinkable. Officials said there is no timeline to return residents to the city, but the provincial government is sending in a team to do preliminary planning.

David Yurdiga, the member of Parliament for the area, toured Fort McMurray on Sunday and said he was now more optimistic.

"We'll be back on our feet a lot quicker than I thought we would be," he told reporters at the roadblock just south of the city.

"All of the key infrastructure is in place. Our hospital is standing. Our schools are standing. Our treatment plant is functioning."

"I toured probably every neighbourhood in Fort McMurray and 80% of the homes are standing," he said.

"Some areas you don't even know there was a fire."

With cooler temperatures forecast for the next three or four days, Alberta fire official Chad Morrison said firefighters should be able to put out hot spots.

And it has allowed them to further protect Fort McMurray. He said he was very buoyed and happy that they are making great progress.

"It definitely is a positive point for us, for sure," said Mr Morrison, who answered yes when asked if the fight to contain the flames had a reached a turning point.

"We're obviously very happy that we've held the fire better than expected," he said.

"This is great firefighting weather. We can really get in here and get a handle on this fire, and really get a death grip on it."

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