Canadian officials hope to put 'death grip' on fire

Monday, May 9, 2016
Flames flare up from hot spots Sunday along a highway to Fort McMurray, Canada.
Ryan Remiorz ~ The Canadian Press via AP

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta -- Officials said Sunday they reached a turning point in fighting an enormous wildfire, hoping to get a "death grip"' on the blaze that devastated Canada's oil-sands town of Fort McMurray amid cooler temperatures and light rain.

Meanwhile, a massive evacuation of residents displaced by the blaze came to an end.

Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire told a news conference he's "very happy" and called it great firefighting weather.

"We can really get in there and really get a handle on this fire and really get a death grip on it," said Morrison, who answered "yes" when asked whether they've reached a turning point.

With cooler temperatures in the next three or four days, he said firefighters should be able to put out hot spots. And it has allowed them to further protect fire-ravaged Fort McMurray. "I feel very buoyed and happy that we are making great progress," he said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the wildfire grew much more slowly than feared, and it is 397,831 acres.

She said the blaze is quite a bit smaller than had been expected Saturday, when officials expected the fire to double in size. She added the city is safe for first responders and said she will visit today to assess the damage.

It rained Sunday. The Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, tweeted a picture of the rainfall and wrote: "It was only for a few minutes but the sight of rain has never been so good." Notley retweeted the picture and wrote "Here's hoping for much more!"

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said they "may be turning a corner," but it's too early to celebrate, and a lot of work remains.

Officials also completed the transport of 25,000 residents out of work camps north of the city. Police and military oversaw a procession of thousands of vehicles Friday and Saturday, and a mass airlift of thousands of evacuees was also employed from the oil sands camps that usually house workers.

No deaths or injuries have been reported from the fire. Notley, however, mentioned two evacuees who died in a traffic accident during the evacuation.

Her voice cracked when talking about the two, and she noted it is Mother's Day.

Fifteen-year-old Emily Ryan and her stepmother's nephew, Aaron Hodgson, died in the accident.

The images of Fort McMurray are one of devastation -- scorched homes and whole neighborhoods burned to the ground.

More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.

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