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Monster Canada Wildfire Continues to Grow, Could Reach Saskatchewan

The fire was expected to cover more than 772 square miles, up from 600 square miles at midday, and was expected to grow further, officials said.
A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, near Highway 63 on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Alberta's main oil sands city of Fort McMurray on Saturday, fearing the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.Jonathan Hayward / AP

The massive wildfire burning in Canada continued to grow late Saturday, as officials warned it could be "months" before the blaze is brought under control.

Alberta’s government said Saturday evening that the fire burning near the city of Fort McMurray will cover more than 772 square miles by midnight — up from 600 square miles at midday — and will continue to grow, possibly even reaching Saskatchewan.

"In no way is this fire under control," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said late Saturday.

More than 500 firefighters were battling the blaze as of late Saturday, along with 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers. Officials continued to organize convoys of evacuees from affected areas.

At 6:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. ET) a camp used to house first responders was told to evacuate as the blaze spread, the company running the camp said.

A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday.Jonathan Hayward / AP

"They are not in imminent danger, this is an orderly and precautionary evacuation,” the company, Noralta Lodge, said in a statement.

Related: Canada Wildlife Could Burn 'for Months to Come'

The fire, which began on May 1, has forced more than 88,000 people to evacuate.

Despite the continued growth of the fire, officials said Saturday the flames were largely in rural areas and forests. A convoy carrying people from north of the fire was expected to be finished by Sunday. Around 2,400 vehicles used Highway 63 to travel south Saturday, the government said.

Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager of wildfire prevention, said the blaze scorching the forest would likely be burning for "a number of months."

"We expect to be out fighting in the forest areas for months to come," he said.

Morrison said extreme fire conditions will persist for the next two days. He said although it wasn’t as hot Saturday as it has been since the fire ignited May 1, it remains extremely dry and windy.

“No size of fire break will stop this fire from continuing to spread,” Morrison said. “What it will be will be the break in the weather.”

The entire city of Fort McMurray was under mandatory evacuation orders and "should not expect to return home for an extended period of time," according to an Alberta government alert.

The communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation were also under mandatory evacuation orders.

There were fears the blaze could reach oil sands mines. Syncrude, a major oil sands mining company in Alberta, said Saturday that it was shutting down operations and removing all personnel from their site until there was no more risk from the fire.

More than 1,600 homes and other buildings have been burned. Two traffic accidents related to the fire have led to fatalities, but no deaths have been tied to the fire itself, authorities said.

Officials acknowledged that evacuated locals were anxious to learn what had become of their homes.

Philip Wylie, his wife Suda and their 13-month-old daughter Phaedra, had to flee their apartment in Fort McMurray on Tuesday. Thinking they’d be able to return soon, they only brought enough clothes for two days.

Wylie said the response from the community and at the evacuation centers has been overwhelming.

"Everything that I'm wearing right now, besides my shoes and my socks, is donation," he told The Associated Press.

Curtis Lewis, who evacuated Anzac three days ago and is staying nearby at a place that does not allow animals, was visiting his dog Muncho at the animal care area at a community center in Lac La Biche. A hallway upstairs was packed with food, toys and treats.

While Muncho played with a donated squeak toy, Lewis said he worried about what he'll return to when the evacuation orders are lifted.

"It's hard," he said. "You think about it every day."