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Canadian Convoy Waits to Flee Wildfire 05/06 06:37

   FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) -- Canadian officials waited for dawn Friday to 
see whether it will be safe for a convoy of evacuees to get out of the 
fire-ravaged Fort McMurray area.

   Gasoline tankers were being sent in to top off fuel tanks for a drive to the 
south.

   Meanwhile, a mass airlift of evacuees was expected to resume Friday morning, 
a day after 8,000 people were moved out.

   In all, more than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray, in the heart of 
Canada's oil sands, and officials say no deaths or injuries related to the fire 
have been reported.

   Crews battling the fire got a little help with temperatures forecast to fall 
overnight to 16C (61F) from the low 30s.

   The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said 
more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment 
and 22 air tankers were fighting the fire, but Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager 
of wildfire prevention, said rain is needed.

   "Let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire," he said. "It 
is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get 
some significant rain."

   Environment Canada forecast a 40 percent chance of showers in the area on 
Saturday.

   Homes and businesses have been destroyed, and that poses a particular 
problem for temporary foreign workers whose permits are linked to specific 
employers.

   Marco Luciano, Albert spokesman for the Coalition for Migrant Workers Rights 
Canada, foreign workers generally are hired by various lodges and restaurants, 
or to provide childcare for local families.

   At least 18 people have made it to Edmonton, Luciano said Thursday.

   "They evacuated only with their working uniform on," he said. "They had no 
time to pick up anything from their homes, and they came directly to Edmonton 
yesterday ... They don't know what to do."

   Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness, and there are essentially only 
two ways out via road.

   Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 
square kilometers (29 square miles) Tuesday to 100 square kilometers (39 square 
miles) on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that --- at 850 
square kilometers (330 square miles). That's an area roughly the size of 
Calgary, Alberta's largest city.

   Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed 
the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. Morrison said the cause 
of the fire hasn't been determined, but he said it started in a remote forested 
area and could have been ignited by lightning.

   The region has the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi 
Arabia and Venezuela.


(KA)

 
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