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Rain provides help to some firefighters in northern Alberta

While people in a number of communities in northern Alberta remain on evacuation alert because of out-of-control wildfires, fire officials say a change in the weather is providing crews with some help.

The biggest fire in the province, estimated to be about 6,579 hectares in size, is burning about 16 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray and 12 km west of Highway 63.

After a windy weekend that helped the blaze grow rapidly in size, Alberta Wildfire officials say in an update posted online Monday that “light rain showers are expected today, which will help lower fire activity.”

Environment Canada forecasts the high temperature in Fort McMurray Monday to be 19 C, with mainly cloudy skies, a 60 per cent chance of showers and winds from the southeast of 20 km/h.

Fire officials say “this will give firefighters a good window to continue making progress on containing the fire.”

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“Heavy equipment is working on a fire guard on the northeast side of the fire. Six crews of firefighters continue to work on establishing a containment line, with the support of 13 helicopters. Airtankers are available if required,” Alberta Wildfire officials say.

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“Two night vision helicopters worked overnight to drop water on the fire with their buckets.”

Despite the improvement in the weather, the Municipality of  Wood Buffalo says the wildfire danger remains “extreme” and an evacuation alert remains in effect for Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Anzac and Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

“It all depends on the wind,” area resident Lena Lepeine said as she arrived in Calgary Monday morning on a flight from Fort McMurray. “We are at the mercy of the wind.”

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Asked how the situation compares with the 2016 fire that devastated the community, James Hein says his family is ready to leave if needed.

“We made the kids pack a three-day bag and made sure we have all the important documents, insurance papers and stuff like that and all our medications ready to go,” Hein says.

Farther west, the Kleskun Creek fire, located about four kilometres east of Teepee Creek in the County of Grande Prairie, also remains out of control with the fire danger listed as extreme.

Alberta wildfire officials say “a specialized heavy equipment group worked yesterday and made good progress on the perimeter of the fire.”

On Monday crews continue to work on the perimeter of the fire guard and extinguish hot spots.

Wildfire officials say smoke has let up in the area enough that aircraft will be flying Monday and helicopters will be bucketing water on the fire with help from airtankers.

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