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Light rain expected to help Fort McMurray wildfire as Grande Prairie blaze to grow

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Crews battling an out-of-control wildfire outside Fort McMurray, Alta., were expecting a little help from light rain and favourable winds on Monday.
Fire crews battling a blaze outside Fort McMurray are expecting a little help from the weather while crews working a wildfire near Grande Prairie say they expect unfavourable winds and no rain. Crews working to fight a forest fire, designated MWF017 by the Alberta Wildfire Service, are briefed prior to going to work in an unidentified staging area, in a Monday, May 13, 2024, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Alberta Wildfire Service, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Crews battling an out-of-control wildfire outside Fort McMurray, Alta., were expecting a little help from light rain and favourable winds on Monday.

"We are expecting a little help from the rain," said provincial wildfire information officer Christie Tucker. 

"The wind direction has changed. The winds are no longer pushing the wildfire in the direction of the community."

The fire near the oilsands hub, northeast of Edmonton, had grown to about 65 square kilometres. Officials said that's because they have a more accurate estimate not because flames are spreading. 

The fire remained about 16 kilometres from the city of 68,000 people. A fire there in 2016 destroyed roughly 2,400 homes.

Meanwhile, firefighters continued to work on another main fire in the province. A 14-square-kilometre blaze near the city of Grande Prairie in northwestern Alberta was facing extreme wildfire conditions, with gusty winds and no precipitation in the forecast.

"Fire behaviour could increase (Monday) and there's no precipitation anticipated for that specific area," Tucker said. 

That fire is about four kilometres from the hamlet of Teepee Creek, the closest community to the flames. 

Josh Morin of Alberta's public safety department said no new evacuation alerts or orders were issued Sunday or Monday. 

Two evacuation orders, issued Friday, remained in place for areas near Grande Prairie and the Municipal District of Greenview. Those areas are lightly populated.  

Evacuation alerts have been issued for several regions in the Fort McMurray area, including Saprae Creek Estates, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation and Anzac.

Structure protections were being set up as precautions in Gregoire Lake Estates and the First Nation, as well as an industrial park near the city.

On Monday, heavy equipment was working on a fire guard on the northeast side of the blaze, while six firefighting crews continued to establish a containment line, supported by 13 helicopters and air tankers on standby. 

Crews were reinforcing a fire guard constructed over the weekend. Heavy equipment teams were also working on the fire's perimeter and air tankers and helicopters were dropping water on flames. 

Tucker said firefighters have noticed several privately operated drones flying near wildfires. Such flights endanger firefighters, hamper efforts to extinguish the flames and are illegal, she said.

"There have been people who have been attempting to view the wildfire with a drone," Tucker said. "We need people to know they can't do that." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2024. 

The Canadian Press