FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — Officials said Sunday that they have reached a turning point amid cooler temperatures in fighting an enormous wildfire and hope to get a “death grip” on the blaze, which has devastated Canada’s oil-sands town of Fort McMurray. Meanwhile, a massive evacuation of residents displaced by the blaze came to an end.
Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire said he is “very happy” and called it great firefighting weather.
“We can really get in there and really get a handle on this fire and really get a death grip on it,” he said.
Morrison said that with cooler temperatures in the next three or four days, firefighters should be able to put out hot spots. He said it allowed them to further protect fire-ravaged Fort McMurray.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the wildfire grew much more slowly than was feared and covers 397,831 acres.
The fire remains west of the Saskatchewan border. Morrison said the blaze has not reached the Suncor or Syncrude oil-sands facilities north of Fort McMurray and that the mines north are not under threat.
Officials also completed the transport of 25,000 residents of out-of-work camps north of the city. Police and members of the military oversaw a procession of thousands of vehicles Friday and Saturday, and a mass airlift of thousands of evacuees was employed from the oil-sands camps that usually house workers.
No deaths or injuries have been reported from the fire itself. However, two evacuees died in a traffic accident during the evacuation.
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 Alberta government is sending a team Monday to do some preliminary planning.
The fire and mass evacuation has forced a quarter or more of Canada’s oil output offline and was expected to affect an economy already hurt by the fall in the price of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray, where some neighborhoods have been destroyed.
Saskatchewan Emergency Management Commissioner Duane McKay said there is heavy smoke in southwest Saskatchewan but no imminent threat of fire to any communities in the province, which is next to Alberta.