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Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Grows, Firefighters Hope for Rain

by Cassandra Vinograd and Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 
In this image released by the Alberta RCMP on May 5, 2016, a police officer walks on a road past burned down houses in Fort McMurray.RCMP / AFP - Getty Images

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The thousands who fled north from the Canadian city of Fort McMurray to escape the raging wildfires were on the move again Friday after the winds changed direction and began pushing the blazes in their direction.

A long convoy of cars and trucks carrying more 15,000 people and escorted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police snaked through the outskirts of the remote city to get away from an inferno that has now charred 390 square miles of territory and devoured more than 1,600 structures.

"As of this morning, the downtown is largely standing, the hospital is still standing, the telephone center is intact, the water treatment center is back up and running," said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. "We've been able to hold the line, for the most part, in the residential areas."

But in other parts of town, said Notley, "damage is extensive and will take many months to repair."

"Firefighters are struggling to contain this fire and save as much of the city as possible," she said.

Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake was among those who had to evacuate for a second time. She said so far every resident of the city (pop. 61,374) had been accounted for.

Smoke billows from the Fort McMurray wildfires on Thursday.Mark Blinch / Reuters

"Everybody has been out, safe and sound," she said. "I was worried that people would panic ...that didn't happen."

Chad Morrison, the province's wildfire management specialist, said the fires were continuing grow, fueled by tinder-dry conditions.

"Right now we do need some rain, no doubt about it," he said.

So far, investigators have not figured out what sparked the wildfires that erupted on Sunday and have so far forced 88,000 people to flee.

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Notley warned anyone thinking of trying to return to Fort McMurray to reconsider.

"The city of Fort McMurray is not safe to return to," she said. "The town site will be secured by the RCMP."

More than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers have been fighting the fires for five days.

As of Thursday night, a 49 wildfires were burning with seven considered out of control.

Photos: Entire City Flees Raging Wildfire

The province of Alberta, meanwhile, announced a fire ban in order an attempt to prevent another blaze.

"We will do everything to keep people safe," Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil John Carlier told a press conference. "We cannot control Mother Nature. We can minimize fires."

The Canadian Red Cross said it had raised $11 million for those affected — and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has pledged to match individual donations.

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