south african firefighters Emergency Services Echo–Nova
Photo Cred: Supplied | On File

Fire crews from around the world will be joining the fight this week against a massive wildfire burning near Fort McMurray.

Senior wildlife manager Chad Morrison said up to 1,000 firefighters will be added to 1,200 already on the ground.

About 200 from the United States, including Alaska, are to arrive Wednesday and 280 from South Africa on Sunday.

“Being a little bit cooler, we’re able to surge with more firefighters that we can put on the perimeter safely,” Morrison told reporters Tuesday.

There was a disappointing “touch of rain” in the area over the long weekend, he added, and the forecast is not calling for any in the coming days.

“This fire is not under control by any means,” Morrison said in a news conference Tuesday, when asked if the oilsands are in the clear.

He said there is no immediate threat, but added it’s early yet, both in the life of this fire and the fire season in general.

fort mcmurray fire

And with no significant rain in two to three months — combined with warm forecast this week — it’s going to stay tough.

“There always is that potential,” that flames could cross the firebreaks around the Suncor and Syncrude facilities, that firefighters patrol, Morrison said.

“That’s why we’re investing thousands of resources,” he said. “We continue to secure the sites around there. We expect to hold it as best we can over the next coming days.”

However, the fire was continuing to move northeast, further away from communities and oilsands facilities in northern Alberta.

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said work camps that were evacuated are being inspected for possible reopening, and oilsands companies are looking at when they can resume operations.

The blaze, which has grown to about 5,230 square kilometres — with 25 square kilometres in Saskatchewan — spread into Fort McMurray on May 3, sending more than 80,000 people fleeing for safety.

fort mcmurray fire

It destroyed about 2,400 buildings in the city. Officials are gearing up for a phased re-entry of residents beginning June 1, if conditions are deemed safe.

Scott Long with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said every home still standing will need to be cleaned, and a handbook with detailed instructions will be made available to residents.

It includes advice on washing walls with vinegar instead of bleach, how to avoid mould by tossing out stained carpets and curtains, throwing away all perishable food and disinfecting canned goods before opening them.

Larivee said some details of the re-entry process are still being worked out, but counsellors and other supports will be on hand for residents.

It will be “a long journey of many years” to get things back to normal, she added.

“The hope is that we can work with them to, in some ways, be even better than before this fire, to help them be a healthy community again,” Larivee said.

Fort McMurray International Airport announced Tuesday that commercial air service will hopefully resume on June 10.

The airport authority said the resumption of flights depends on a number of factors, including the airspace requirements for crews who are continuing to fight the fire, as well as whether the planned re-entry into Fort McMurray proceeds as planned.

Morrison said this week will be incredibly “challenging”, though he remained, as ever, optimistic.

“We continue to make great progress.”

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Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

2 comments

  1. Not sure how well trained/exerienced the firefighters from other countries are, so won’t comment, but have seen our South African firefighter in action against a run away wildfire here in Cape Town and surrounds and I think they are superb. If their record is anything to go by, that fire doesn’t stand a chance.

  2. You can not compare a Capetown bush fire to a North American forest fire. Have a little knowledge before making a stupid statement. I am sure that the South Africans are as well trained as our guys – so I will make a comment.

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