Strong winds and extremely dry conditions have been feeding a wildfire in western Canada since it began on Friday. The fire has grown to over 210,000 acres, larger than the city of Chicago. Officials warned that it could be weeks until evacuated locals will be able to return home.
As access to the area is limited, the true scale of the damage caused by the wildfire is difficult to estimate but reports say that more than 1,600 homes and establishments have been destroyed. Eighty-eight thousand locals were forced to free their homes and some of them say that entire neighborhood have been completely wiped out by the fire damage.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley praised the amazing and “herculean” response by firefighters but warned that the fire may still continue to spread due to the “tinder-dry” conditions in the area. "They are very early days," Notley told a press conference. "There is much more to do and more help will be needed."
Notley urged patience for the residents of the Fort McMurray area, saying, “The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents. It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days.”
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported that the strong winds have made stopping the wildfire “extremely challenging” as more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers have been fighting the fires.
In the municipality’s message to the community, fire chief Darby Allen said, "We're still here, we're still battling. The beast is still up, its surrounding he city and we're here doing our very best for ya."
While the cause of the inferno remains unknown, the province of Alberta has announced a fire ban in attempt to prevent another blaze.
"We will do everything to keep people safe," Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil John Carlier said in a press conference. "We cannot control Mother Nature. We can minimize fires."
So far, the Canadian Red Cross has raised $11 million for those affected by the wildfire. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has pledged to match individual donations to the cause.