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Science & Environment

Massive Canada Wildfires Continue To Spread

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away this week. I'm Melissa Block. Wild fires continue to rage in Alberta, Canada, near the tar sands where hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil are produced each day. Yesterday, the fire caused the shutdown of one of those facilities and the premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, said it may very well reach the edges of another. Over 80,000 people have been evacuated in Fort McMurray and the surrounding area.

Evan Dyer is a CBC reporter in Lac la Biche, Alberta halfway between the fire and Edmonton, where the fire command center is. And he joins us from one of many evacuation centers. Evan, welcome to the program.

EVAN DYER: Thanks so much.

BLOCK: And what are you hearing from the folks who've been evacuated?

DYER: We hear some crazy stories from evacuees escaping through the flames. Just to give you an example, yesterday I heard about a couple who had been separated when the fire broke out. The husband was at work. The wife had a 3-week-old baby. She put the baby in the back of their truck and started heading south out of Fort Mac. And she went to a part of the highway where the fire was on both sides. Her rear well started to melt. Her headlights started to melt. She got through the fire, and her husband found her on the shoulder of the road. She was in such fear, he actually had to pry her fingers off the steering wheel.

BLOCK: Oh my goodness.

DYER: And he said if the car had been gas rather than diesel, it probably would have killed them. So we hear a lot of those kinds of stories of people having very narrow escapes.

BLOCK: And is there any sense of when all those tens of thousands of people who've had to flee - when they might be able to go home and see what, if anything, is left?

DYER: Well, the premier of Alberta has told everybody don't expect this to be a matter of days. And I think that that's sinking in for the evacuees. A major part of Fort McMurray is already gone, and everybody knows that they're out for quite a while.

BLOCK: And the weather is making this all worse, right?

DYER: Yes. I mean, the weather over the long run, over the whole winter weather was less snow than usual. Then suddenly, the weather turned very, very hot. We had about 82, 83 degrees yesterday. That's unseasonably warm for here. And finally the wind - and the wind constantly changing direction - and that makes the fire extremely unpredictable.

BLOCK: Do they have enough firefighters to try to keep this contained, if not under control?

DYER: There are over 500 firefighters up there. There's, I think, something like 18 water bombers and 17 helicopters fighting this fire. But the people who are in charge of that effort all say that weather is going to be the only thing that ultimately can stop this fire.

BLOCK: And is there relief in sight from the weather?

DYER: No. I mean, we've gotten no rain in the forecast for the next week out.

BLOCK: Evan Dyer is a reporter with the CBC. He joined us from an evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta. Evan, thanks so much.

DYER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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