A state of emergency has been declared in the Canadian province of Alberta where firefighters on Wednesday continued battling a raging wildfire in the northern municipality of Fort McMurray.
Strong winds threaten to fan a blaze that has destroyed over 1,600 structures and triggered the largest evacuation in the province’s history on Tuesday.
Winds gusting up to 20 kilometres per hour were the biggest problem, but hot, dry conditions also were a factor, said Chad Morrison, a senior manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention and Enforcement, told reporters.
Firefighters expected the fire to pick up strength in the afternoon as "challenge firefighters well into the evening," Morrison said.
Darby Allen, fire chief of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said firefighters had worked all night to bring the fire under control.
"We successfully evacuated 88,000 people," Allen told reporters, struggling to contain his emotions. "No one is hurt and no one has passed away. I really hope that we can get to the end of this day and we can still say that."
After blazing through the southern neighbourhoods of the city, the fire has jumped the Athabasca River and is threatening neighbourhoods on the other bank, said Alberta Prime Minister Rachel Notley.
The fire has spread to over 10,000 hectares, officials said. The city’s water infrastructure has been so badly damaged, municipal authorities have declared a advisory for residents to boil water before using it.
The city’s emergency response centre had to move to escape the flames, officials aid.
Fire crews from across Alberta drove through the night to reinforce fire brigades in Fort McMurray, the heartland of Canada's oil sands industry.
There were 250 firefighters on the ground with 10 helicopters and 17 air tankers fighting the blaze from the air.
Notley, who flew into Fort McMurray to personally take stock of the situation, made an official request for federal assistance on Tuesday night, with offers of help coming from across Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Canada will be there for the people of Fort McMurray.
"Canada is a country where we look out for our neighbours," Trudeau said.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, currently in Germany attending conference on the Islamic State extremist militia, said the Canadian military would make all assets available.
The city's Beacon Hill, Abasand and Waterways neighbourhoods appear to have been hardest hit. Officials tweeted that 90 per cent of the homes in Waterways had been destroyed.
Many of the evacuees were expected in the provincial capital Edmonton. Thousands more have sought shelter in camps for oil sands workers north of the city. Shell Canada announced that it has opened its work camps for all evacuees.