Rainfall set to help crews battling wildfire near Canada’s Fort McMurray

Authorities say blaze in heart of Canadian tar sands region will be ‘subdued’ due to expected rain and cloud cover.

A firefighter monitors a pump in Fort McMurray, Canada
A firefighter monitors a pump powering a sprinkler system in the evacuated neighbourhood of Fort McMurray, Canada, on May 16 [Jesse Winter/Reuters]

Cloud cover and rainfall over the next few days are expected to help crews battling a large wildfire near Fort McMurray, a city at the heart of Canada’s tar sands region, local authorities said.

The fire on Friday remained about 5.5km (3.4 miles) from the landfill on the city’s southern outskirts where crews continue to build a containment line.

The municipal authority of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, said the blaze was largely unchanged at 19,820 hectares (49,000 acres).

“Fire behavior will be subdued today with cloud cover and rain showers,” it said in a statement, adding that as much as 80mm (3.5 inches) of rainfall was expected by Tuesday.

Authorities issued evacuation orders for four neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray earlier this week as the wildfire neared – one of several blazes burning across the country so far this fire season.

As of Thursday, more than 2,500 people had been evacuated from the Fort McMurray area, authorities said.

Located about 430km (270 miles) northeast of Edmonton, Fort McMurray has experienced devastating wildfires before.

In 2016, tens of thousands of people were forced to flee as a huge blaze destroyed homes, businesses and other structures in the city.

Canada saw its most intense fire season on record in 2023, as hundreds of wildfires burned in provinces and territories across the country.

The huge blazes forced thousands from their homes, destroyed entire communities and sent enormous plumes of smoke into the United States, as well as Europe.

Smoke rises from a wildfire near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
Smoke rises on the south side of the Athabasca River valley near Fort McMurray, on May 10 [Alberta Wildfire/Handout via Reuters]

Experts have said the climate crisis is largely responsible for the record-setting conflagrations. Higher temperatures have extended the Canadian wildfire season, which typically runs from the end of April until September or October.

It has also increased lightning, which is generally the cause of about half of all the blazes in the country.

Over the past few days, evacuations have also been ordered in the westernmost province of British Columbia and in Manitoba, in central Canada.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies