Officials fear massive Alberta wildfire could double in size - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Officials fear massive Alberta wildfire could double in size

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Evacuees leave Fort McMurray in the early morning, after being stranded north of wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016. Evacuees leave Fort McMurray in the early morning, after being stranded north of wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016.
Police officers direct traffic under a cloud of smoke from a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016. Police officers direct traffic under a cloud of smoke from a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016.
Flames from a wildfire billow into the sky south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Flames from a wildfire billow into the sky south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016.
A convoy of cars and trucks pass a wildfire as they are evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 south of the city on Saturday, May 7, 2016. A convoy of cars and trucks pass a wildfire as they are evacuated from Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Highway 63 south of the city on Saturday, May 7, 2016.

LAC LA BICHE, Alberta (AP) — Canadian officials feared a massive wildfire could double in size by the end of Saturday as they continue to evacuate residents of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray from work camps north of Alberta's oil sands city.

Thousands more displaced residents were getting a sobering drive-by view of their burned-out city as convoys continued Saturday. The images were largely ones of devastation — scorched trucks, charred homes and telephone poles, burned out from the bottom up, hanging in the wires like little wooden crosses.

Police said many parts of smoke-filled Fort McMurray are burnt and visibility is low.  Officers wore masks as they checked homes to make sure everyone was out.

Police and military were overseeing another procession of vehicles from the oil sands camps north of the city, and the mass airlift of evacuees was also set to resume. About 2,500 vehicles and 7,000 people had passed through Fort McMurray on Friday despite a one-hour interruption due to heavy smoke, authorities said.

A day after 8,000 people were flown out, authorities said 5,500 more were expected to be evacuated by the end of Friday and another 4,000 on Saturday.

More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada' oil sands, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings. The mass evacuation forced as much as a quarter of Canada's oil output offline and is expected to impact a country already hurt by a dramatic fall in the price of oil.

Syncrude, a major oil sands mining company, became the latest to shut down operations. The company said in a statement that while there is no imminent threat from fire smoke has reached its Mildred Lake site. They intend to have all personnel out this weekend and started the evacuation early Saturday.

Syncrude said they will restore operations when there is no risk and said despite the extraordinary measures the jobs of more than 4,800 employees remain secure.

"This is a highly dangerous situation," Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. He said the fire is feeding off the "extremely dry" boreal forest.

The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said Friday the size of the blaze, which includes burned areas and those areas still in flames, had grown to 101,000 hectares (250,000 acres) or about 1,000 square kilometers (390 square miles). No deaths or injuries were reported.

Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager of wildfire prevention, said there was a "high potential that the fire could double in size" by the end of Saturday.

He expected the fire to expand into a more remote forested area northeast and away from Fort McMurray. Extremely dry conditions and a hot temperature of 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) was expected Saturday along with strong winds, he said.

"We have not seen rain in this area for the last two months of significance," Morrison said. "This fire will continue to burn for a very long time until we see some significant rain."

Environment Canada forecast a 40 percent chance of showers in the area on Sunday. Morrison said cooler weather was expected Sunday and Monday.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Kevin Kunetzki said police were canvassing every residence in Fort McMurray and have completed about 30 percent of that work. They found a family of five with small children on Friday who didn't have the means to get out. He said there are very few who are refusing to evacuate.

Lac La Biche, Alberta, normally a sleepy town of 2,500 about 175 kilometers (109 miles) south of Fort McMurray, was helping thousands of evacuees, providing a place to sleep, food, donated clothes and even shelter for their pets. Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesman for Lac La Biche County said that 4,400 evacuees have come through The Bond Center, a sports facility in town. At the center, tables were piled with clothes, towels and other items. The center was offering three free meals a day and other services, including mental health services. A kennel housed people's pets on site.

Philip Wylie, wife Suda and 13-month-old daughter Phaedra, were among those staying at the center after evacuating their apartment in Fort McMurray on Tuesday.

"Trees were blowing up against our vehicles," Philip Wylie said of the caravan drive out of town. "We don't know what we're going to go back to, or when we can go back."

Suda Wylie said the day they had evacuated started out clear, and they thought they would be fine. Then, in a matter of hours, she said she opened the blinds and "the sky was orange."

They rushed to pack, grabbed documents, passports and their laptops before they left, but thinking that they would be able to return home soon, only packed enough clothes for two days.

The family spent the first night camping on the property of a sandpit after the owner said they could set up camp near a pond. Once they realized that the fire was growing and they couldn't get home, they went to an evacuation center that was itself ultimately evacuated because of the fire. They arrived at The Bond Center late Wednesday night.

Philip Wylie said the response from the community and at the evacuation centers has been overwhelming.

"Everything that I'm wearing right now, besides my shoes and my socks, is donation," he said.

About 25,000 evacuees moved north in the hours after Tuesday's mandatory evacuation, where oil sands work camps that usually house employees were used to house evacuees. Officials are moving everyone south where it is safer.

Fanned by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometers (29 square miles) Tuesday to 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that — at 850 square kilometers (330 square miles). That's an area roughly the size of Calgary, Alberta's largest city.

The fire was so large that smoke is blanketing parts of the neighboring province of Saskatchewan where Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for several areas.

Alberta's oil sands region has the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

___

Gillies reported from Toronto.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. 

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