EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Favorable winds are expected to push an “out of control” wildfire away from Canada’s oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta, officials said Wednesday, a day after thousands were evacuated.

Wildfire season has started early in Canada this year with several fires burning across the country’s west, forcing residents out of their homes.

The fire, which started last week, caused about 6,600 residents to flee parts of the southern end of Fort McMurray. The rest of the city remains on evacuation alert.

Earlier Wednesday, Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz told reports in Fort McMurray that “a large number of residents” also self-evacuated, adding that they could return home “if they live in those areas that are not under an (evacuation) order.”

Butz also said; “The fire is still out of control and in the next few days with the graces of some good weather that could change,” and that evacuation orders were likely to remain in place until at least May 21 and residents should plan accordingly.

Now, shifting winds are giving locals hope their city may be spared.

Christine Tucker, Alberta’s Wildfire Information Unit Manager, said — during a press conference in the city of Edmonton together with the province’s premier, Danielle Smith — that winds from the northwest at 10 kilometers (6 miles) an hour are expected to push the fire away “from the community and away from the highway.”

She added “lower winds” have been recorded, adding they are “really favorable … for us.”

Tucker also described the wildfire, which has so far grown to cover about 21,000 hectares (2.4 acres), as “out of control,” but said cooler temperatures will also mean slightly less wildfire activity.

Fort McMurray, which has a population of about 68,000, suffered a devastating blaze in 2016 that destroyed 2,400 homes and forced more than 80,000 people to flee.

“I’m sure these memories will create fear and uncertainty for many in Fort McMurray. My sympathy is with everyone facing this situation, but safety must remain our top priority,” said Smith.

Butz, the fire chief, assured that the current wildfire was much different and that they were “way better positioned now.” He said it was burning along the surface of the ground through the aftermath of the former blaze and had much less fuel, and that muskeg was generating the smoke noticed by locals.

Smith’s government announced that those displaced by fire evacuations would be eligible to receive $1,250 Canadian (US$919) per adult and $600 Canadian (US$441) per child forced out of their homes.

In the neighboring province of British Columbia, a widening area around the northeastern community of Fort Nelson is under evacuation, with the Parker Lake wildfire burning close by and the larger Patry Creek wildfire raging to the northwest. About 4,700 people had to leave their homes.

In Manitoba, about 500 people have been forced out of their homes in the remote northwestern community of Cranberry Portage ahead of a fire measuring more than 300 square kilometers.

In 2023, Canada experienced a record number of wildfires that caused choking smoke in parts of the U.S. and forced more than 235,000 Canadians to evacuate their communities. No civilians died, but at least four firefighters died.


Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed this report.

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