Gusting winds and “tinder-dry” conditions were feeding the beast of a blaze in western Canada early Friday, as officials warned it could be days or weeks before evacuated locals can return home.
The fires in the province of Alberta forced 88,000 people to flee and destroyed more than 1,600 structures. Officials were waiting to see if it would be safe to get another convoy of evacuees out on Friday, according to local media.
Around 328 square miles have been scorched. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley praised the “herculean” firefighter response but warned late Thursday that the inferno could spread due to “tinder dry” conditions.
“They are very early days,” she told a press conference. “There is much more to do and more help will be needed.”
Notley acknowledged the frustrations of evacuated locals desperate for answers but urged patience.
“The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” Notley said. “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,” she said.
More than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers are fighting the fires.
Gusting winds have become “extremely challenging” for fire crews, according to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
“We’re still here, we’re still battling,” the municipality’s fire chief Darby Allen said in a message to the community. “The beast is still up, its surrounding he city and we’re here doing our very best for ya.”
A total of 49 wildfires were burning as of Thursday night, with seven considered out of control. A lack of rain hasn’t helped — and none is on the forecast for days.
“No matter how many air tankers we throw at this thing we’re not going to be able to stop this fire,” Morrison said. “It’s going to continue to burn with high intensity for the next several days until we get some rain or cooler conditions.”
The cause of the inferno, which erupted on Sunday, remains unknown.
The province of Alberta, meanwhile, announced a fire ban in order an attempt to prevent another blaze.
“We will do everything to keep people safe,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil John Carlier told a press conference. “We cannot control Mother Nature. We can minimize fires.”
There was some hope of good news for Albertans stranded north of Fort McMurray: officials are hoping to begin a ground evacuation from the north on Friday morning and briefly re-open the main highway through the city to let people drive south, according to Reuters.
The Canadian Red Cross said it had raised $11 million for those affected — and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has pledged to match individual donations.