By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Ont. (AA) - A Canadian wildfire that has produced the largest natural disaster in the country’s history has now consumed 877,000 acres and a fire official said Tuesday it could “start spreading very quickly.”
Province of Alberta wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather made the comment to CTV television news, as the fire burning through the oil sands region in the north of the province jumped to 4,000 square kilometers (2,485 square miles) Tuesday from 2,800 square kilometers (1,740 square miles) the previous day.
That is about five times the size of New York City, CTV reported.
“It’s a very large increase in size in a single day,” Fairweather said.
The fire -- there are 19 burning in the province -- forced the evacuation of 8,000 nonessential workers from the oil sands camps, including 12 camps belonging to Suncor and Syncrude.
The massive plants that process bitumen have wide barriers of cleared firebreak and their own firefighting crews, but officials were taking no chances and evacuated the nonessential employees.
Fires have already destroyed the Black Sands work camp, with 665 building lost, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told CTV.
This follows the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from the nearby city of Fort McMurray last week. The city remains uninhabitable, with an air quality reading of 13 on a scale of one to 10, one being the best air. That’s bad news for those hoping to return to the city.
“This poses a serious risk to first responders and recovery workers in the area, so it has the potential to stall recovery efforts,” Notley told the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s national news agency.
Two homes exploded in the city in separate locations Monday, destroying 10 buildings and officials do not yet know the cause.
Officials had hoped to allow retail and grocery store employees back into the city to prepare the way for the return of residents, but that has been put on hold.
As well, 400 workers brought to a regional health center were forced to evacuate Monday.
No rain -- needed to help control the wildfires -- is expected until Thursday and the fire remains unpredictable due to dry and windy conditions.
“Mother Nature continues to be our foe,” Notley said.
There are 1,919 firefighters battling the blaze, along with 161 helicopters, 377 pieces of heavy equipment and 29 air tankers, Global News reported.