Ottawa, May 6 (IANS) The wildfire in western Canada, which ballooned to 85,000 hectares in Fort McMurray overnight, is now billowing across a wide front south of the city, a senior official said on Thursday.
The fire, which broke out early this week, has forced a massive evacuation of 88,000 people, Xinhua quoted Alberta Premier Rachel Notley as saying.
Supercharged by winds of up to 70 km/h, the Fort McMurray wildfire has grown eight times larger on Wednesday night and is expected to continue to burn out of control on Thursday as more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers are fighting to protect homes and critical infrastructure across the oil sands gateway.
No firm estimates are yet available on number of structures that burned overnight but officials said on Wednesday that at least 1,600 homes and buildings have been destroyed. Up to 90 percent of structures were burnt down in some outskirts neighbourhoods.
On Wednesday afternoon, Alberta declared a province-wide state of emergency to provide full support and better coordinate resources.
Officials said one major task on Thursday will be to re-evacuate up to 25,000 people now sheltering in oil sands work camps north of the city. The province hopes to transport many of those people, who fled Fort McMurray two days ago, by aircraft to Edmonton, the provincial capital and the closest major city 435 km to the south.
Fire officials said a total of 47 wildfires are burning across the province with seven considered out of control. Amazingly, as of Thursday morning, there have been no serious injuries or deaths yet reported.
Three more communities including an evacuation centre were put under evacuation orders late on Wednesday as the unstoppable fire pushed further south away from Fort McMurray. Firefighters said they need help from cooler wetter weather to contain fire.
The local airport, which has already been shut down to all commercial flights, suffered minor damages but will remain open to emergency services. Anxious and exhausted people boarded buses for the long trip down Highway 63.
Fire crews on the ground expect to receive reinforcements soon from other parts of Canada. Ontario will send 100 fighters Friday and Quebec has dispatched four air tankers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday morning that the federal government will match all individual charitable donations to Red Cross relief efforts for Fort McMurray. Alberta has also pledged to match donations to the Red Cross.
Insurance companies are setting up temporary claims hubs and sending additional staff to Alberta as wildfires in Fort McMurray destroyed property in what could become one of the costliest natural disasters in Canadian history.
The damage could reach nine billion Canadian dollars (about $7 billion) for insurers if it gets to the point that the town has to be rebuilt, an analyst at Bank of Montreal said on Thursday.
Officials were still investigating the cause of the latest fire, being it lightning strike or human cause but meteorologist said the wildfire has a clear link to climate change.