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Wildfire near Fort McMurray only one burning out of control in Alberta: province

The MWF-017 wildfire burning southwest of Fort McMurray is the only wildfire classified as out of control in Alberta, provincials announced in an update on Thursday morning.

“MWF-017 didn’t grow overnight. It did move slightly to the northwest towards the Athabasca River, but it remains 5.5 kilometres from Fort McMurray limits and 4.5 from the highway,” Christie Tucker of Alberta Wildfire told reporters on Thursday. “The size has now been reassessed to 19,820 hectares, slightly smaller than it was assessed previously.”

Officials say fire behaviour is expected to be subdued on Thursday and in coming days with 20 to 80 millimetres of total precipitation in the forecast, but reminded residents the fire is still a threat.

“Do not get complacent because of the rain,” Josee St-Onge of Alberta Wildfire said. “It will take time and hard work to put out a wildfire of this size. There is still an abundance of dry forest fuels in the area, and this wildfire is still active.”

St-Onge says large wildfires burn deep in the ground and continue to smoulder even in rainy conditions.

“We’ll have a better assessment at the end of today of what exactly they saw on the fire line. But typically, you can still see some active wildfire activity when there’s rain.”

The fire forced the evacuation of four Fort McMurray neighbourhoods earlier this week.

“Other areas remain under alert but please know with the monitoring we have a high level of confidence in the safety of those areas,” Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) Fire Chief Jody Butz said.

Reception centres have been set up in Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, and Edmonton for evacuees.

Residents have been told they should expect to be out of their homes until at least Tuesday.

Officials say the rain likely won’t change that return date.

Butz said there has been no damage to any homes as a result of the fire.

“There is no structural damage and there’s no dozer operating around homes or in those neighbourhoods. When you return home your neighbourhoods will look the same,” he said.

With the May long weekend approaching, officials are urging Albertans to be fire-smart as they head outdoors.

“The May long weekend is traditionally a time when Albertans like to head out into the forest looking for camping or recreational activities as the weather warms up. It’s also the time when we see the most new wildfires start here in this province,” Tucker said.

“Be sure to respect any bans or restrictions in place over the weekend. Sixty seven per cent of wildfires are caused by people.”

Only one wildfire in Alberta in 2024 is confirmed to have started because of lightning.

The cause of 86 wildfires is still under investigation, and 236 are confirmed to be human-caused.

As of Thursday morning there are 44 wildfires burning in Alberta.

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