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Fort McMurray Fire: Officials Hail Turning Point in Wildfire Fight

The inferno in Alberta ignited on May 1.
Image: A helicopter is seen through heavy smoke
A helicopter is seen through heavy smoke in Alberta on Saturday.HANDOUT / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Canadian officials cautiously hailed a turning point in the battle to contain a raging wildfire, saying a combination of cooler temperatures and light rain was ushering in a new phase in the fight.

The inferno in Alberta ignited on May 1, triggering a massive evacuation of Fort McMurray. Since then the blaze has scorched 397,831 acres — some 620 square miles — and destroyed some 1,600 structures.

But for the first time since the flames erupted authorities sounded an optimistic note on Sunday, saying they were entering a second phase of stabilization now that cooler temperatures are on the horizon.

Alberta wildfire official Chad Morrison said he was "very, very happy" to have "good news" on Sunday thanks to "a little help from Mother Nature and a bit of a break from the weather."

When asked by reporters if the battle to contain the blaze had reached a turning point, Morrison said yes.

"We're obviously very happy that we've held the fire better than expected," Morrison told a press conference. "This is great firefighting weather. We can really get in here ... and really get a death grip on it."

He said that while there could be strong winds Monday, he expects "cooler temperatures" in the coming days.

"We hope to continue to see success over the next few days and have good news about how we continue to make progress when the cooler weather," Morrison added.

Temperatures were expected to dip through to Friday and Environment Canada forecast a 40 percent chance of showers in Fort McMurray on Monday, according to Reuters.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she was "happy" to report that 31 of 34 fires still burning in the province were either being held or brought under control.

"We expect to continue to make good progress," she told a press conference on Sunday night.

Reinforcements also arrived on Sunday, giving firefighters who'd been battling the blaze a much-needed break.

Attention now will shift to getting first responders in to "mop up hot spots" and make the area as safe as possible so locals can return home.

Damage-assessment teams will start working on Monday to start planning for re-entry, according to Scott Long, executive director of Alberta's Emergency Management Agency.

However, he said "there is no set timeline" on when locals will be able to return home.