'Nasty' wildfire spurs evacuation of 88,000 in Canadian city

By Topher Seguin

ANZAC, Alberta (Reuters) - A massive wildfire in the western Canadian city of Fort McMurray that forced the evacuation of 88,000 residents has resisted efforts to bring it under control, officials said on Wednesday, with more hot, dry winds forecast for later in the day.

Fuel shortages and heavy traffic snarled the departure of residents from Fort McMurray, located in the northeastern part of the province of Alberta in the heart of Canada's oil sands region, as the fire destroyed much of one neighborhood and badly damaged others.

While major oil sands facilities were not in the fire's path, the blaze disrupted some operations. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said one of its oil sands mines was closed and another was in the process of being shut down. Suncor Energy Inc, whose oil sands operations are closest to the city, said it was reducing crude production.

Firefighters said weather conditions made it difficult to bring the fire under control.

"This is a nasty and dirty fire," Fire Chief Darby Allen of Fort McMurray fire department told reporters. "There are certainly areas within the city that have not been burned, but this fire will look for them and it will find them and it will want to take them. And our challenge today is to prevent."

The wildfire now covers about 18,500 acres (7,500 hectares), officials said.

Strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity will again create "explosive conditions" on Wednesday, said Bernie Schmitte, forestry manager in the nearby municipality of Wood Buffalo. Schmitte added that more resources are being assembled across Canada.

"The fire has resisted all suppression efforts," Schmitte said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said about 1,600 structures have been destroyed in Fort McMurray.

The regional government on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of all city residents, but getting out remained difficult.

A highway closure on Tuesday forced most evacuees to drive north, away from major cities. By Wednesday morning, the highway had reopened, but fuel had run out, stranding evacuees seeking to drive out of Fort McMurray. Alberta's transportation department said it was escorting a fuel tanker north to help stranded drivers.

Images from the neighborhood of Beacon Hill in the city's southeast showed rows of charred house foundations, their upper stories burned to the ground, and blankets of white ash within. Officials said 80 percent of houses in the neighborhood, nearly 600 in total, were destroyed.

The regional government said two other neighborhoods, Abasand and Waterways, had sustained "serious loss." Abasand is home to nearly 4,900 people, and Waterways more than 600, according to a 2015 municipal census.

The fire broke out southwest of the city on Sunday, then shifted with the wind to enter the city on Tuesday.

No injuries or deaths were reported. Canada's defense minister said "all assets were available" to help.

(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, Allison Martell, Ethan Lou, Andrea Hopkins and Fergal Smith in Toronto, and Topher Seguin in Wood Buffalo; Editing by Frances Kerry and Will Dunham)

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