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Rain, cooler temperatures help prevent wildfire near Canada’s oil sands from growing

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — A wildfire that has forced thousands of people out of their homes in Canada’s oil sands hub city of Fort McMurray was held in place Thursday, as rain and cooler temperatures swept the area.

Alberta provincial wildfire information officer Christie Tucker said the blaze remained out of control — the only such designated fire in the province — but it did not grow overnight and remained at 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) in size.

“We’re seeing rain and cooler temperatures in much of the province this week, but unfortunately the northern part of the province is expected to stay drier and warmer,” Tucker told a news conference in the provincial capital of Edmonton.

The blaze remained just under 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the southwest outskirts of the community and less than five kilometers (3 miles) from the main highway south.

“The rain will damper things,” Alberta Wildfire Information Officer Josee St.-Onge said.

In Fort McMurray, crews woke up to light rain, overcast skies and cooler temperatures.

“With some help from the weather I am very hopeful that this is headed in the right direction,” said Sandy Bowman, mayor of the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo that contains Fort McMurray.

Evacuated residents are likely to remain out of their homes until at least next Tuesday. The rest of the city and other surrounding subdivisions remain under evacuation alert.

It was familiar terrain for the Albertan city, which survived a catastrophic blaze in 2016 that destroyed 2,400 homes and forced more than 80,000 people to flee.

Other fires across western Canada have also forced residents out of their homes.

— In northeastern British Columbia, a widening area around Fort Nelson, a town of 4,700, remained under evacuation. On Wednesday evening, it had covered about 127 square kilometers (49 square miles). The BC Wildfire Service said light rain and cooler temperatures were in the forecast and could stop the fire from spreading closer to the town.

— In Manitoba, about 500 people remained out of the remote northwestern community of Cranberry Portage. Officials said the fire there was about 80% contained and residents might be able to return this weekend.

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