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Hopes raised in Canada wildfire battle

Do Not UseDo Not Use 9/05/2016
Highway 63 near Fort McMurray © Reuters Highway 63 near Fort McMurray

The battle to contain the wildfires in west-central Canada has reached a turning point, partly thanks to drizzle and favourable winds, say officials.

Map showing area affected by wildfire © BBC Map showing area affected by wildfire

One minister warned much work lay ahead but "we may be turning a corner".

Graphic comparing the area hit by a wildfire in Canada to the same size area in London and New York © BBC Graphic comparing the area hit by a wildfire in Canada to the same size area in London and New York

A fifth of homes in the oil sands city of Fort McMurray have been destroyed and more than 80,000 people evacuated.

But the fire had not spread as fast as had been feared, said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who will survey the devastation on Monday.

"With a bit of help from Mother Nature and a lot of help from firefighters and first responders, the fire grew a lot more slowly than we feared," she said.

On Saturday, officials had said they expected it to double in size.

The fire covered 1,610 sq km (622 square miles) on Sunday morning, said Ms Notley, and was about 30-40km from the neighbouring province, Saskatchewan.

There have been no deaths from the fire but Ms Notley became emotional when she paid tribute to two evacuees who died in a car accident during the evacuation.

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A team from the provincial government will enter Fort McMurray on Monday to begin preliminary planning on repairing damage in the city.

The gas has been turned off and the power grid is damaged, while the water is not drinkable.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said "we may be turning a corner" but warned it was too early to celebrate overcoming the blaze.

Officials who have toured the city say it might be years before it is running normally again. There is still no timeline for when people can return to their homes.

Some officials were more optimistic about the state of the city. Member of Parliament David Yurdiga, who toured the area on Sunday, said "all of the key infrastructure is in place. Our hospital is standing. Our schools are standing. Our treatment plan is functioning."

He said about 80% of homes in Fort McMurray are standing and in some areas "you don't even know there was a fire".

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is no need for Canada to accept international assistance in fighting the fire because other Canadians provinces are helping enough. Russia, the US, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority had all offered assistance.

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