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Wildfire near Fort McMurray grows to 5,500 hectares, but flames pushed south of city

A wildfire near Fort McMurray, Alta., more than tripled in size overnight — but fire officials are hopeful it won’t spread as much Sunday, nor approach the northern Alberta city.

The fire, burning about 16 kilometres southwest of the city, covered about 5,500 hectares as of 10:45 a.m. MT Sunday, according to the Alberta Wildfire status dashboard. On Saturday morning, it was about 1,500 hectares in size.

Fire officials witnessed extreme wind speeds and fire behaviour Saturday, but the flames were pushed to the southeast, said Melissa Story, an Alberta Wildfire public information officer.

“The fire was heading [toward Fort McMurray], but now it’s skipping the south portion of the city and heading in a southerly direction,” Story told CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta Sunday morning.

Alberta Wildfire is reporting 52 total active wildfires as of 11:30 a.m. Sunday, including seven mutual-aid fires. The mutual aid designation occurs when Alberta Wildfire is helping with firefighting, but it is not the lead agency.

Two wildfires are deemed out of control, including the one burning near Fort McMurray.

Although the fire grew significantly over 24 hours, Story said overnight firefighting was successful on the northeast portion of the wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire does not expect the fire to grow much on Sunday, as winds are forecast to slow down and shift to northwesterly, pushing the flames back onto the current burned area, Story said.

Sunday’s focus will be on the southeast side, she said. Five firefighting crews and air support, including air tankers and nine helicopters, will be on scene today. An incident management team is being added to the fold Sunday, too.

Story warned, however, that the fire danger in the region is still extreme, so the public should heed direction from authorities.

The regional municipality of Wood Buffalo — including Fort McMurray, Fort McMurray First Nation, Anzac and Saprae Creek and Gregoire Lake estates — is still under an evacuation alert, meaning people need to be prepared to leave on short notice.

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