Fort McMurray wildfire expands into Saskatchewan

The massive forest fire surrounding Fort McMurray, Alta., is now confirmed to have crossed the border into Saskatchewan.

About 771 hectares have burned in Saskatchewan so far

The latest Canadian Wildland Fire Information System map suggests the Fort McMurray fire has entered Saskatchewan at two points. However, the Saskatchewan government says the southern part is actually a brand new fire that crews are currently battling. (Canadian Wildland Fire Information System)

The massive forest fire surrounding Fort McMurray, Alta., is now confirmed to have crossed the border into Saskatchewan.

Alberta fire information officer Travis Fairweather said on Thursday morning the fire, estimated to be 505,645 hectares in size, has expanded east of the border.

So far, about 700 hectares have burned in Saskatchewan, Alberta officials said. The fire is still 30 kilometres from the nearest village, La Loche.

The Saskatchewan government provided an update later in the morning. Officials said the Fort McMurray fire is not a threat to La Loche right now, but smoke is becoming an issue there and in surrounding communities.

"La Loche is situated against a lake and there's old burns to the north as well, so we don't see a direct fire threat to La Loche," said Saskatchewan Fire Commissioner Duane McKay.

"I would remind everyone that this fire has been completely unpredictable," he added. "It was anticipated to be in Saskatchewan just over a week ago and it stalled out. It is now moving again, but weather forecasts are indicating that should slow."

New, smaller fire on Saskatchewan-Alberta border

There are nine fires currently active in Saskatchewan and seven of those are considered to be contained.

One of the new fires, which covers 40 hectares, started close to the Fort McMurray fire on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border sometime during the evening on May 18. A representative from the Ministry of Environment said helicopters and crews are on the scene, and other helicopters and crews are also working on the eastern flank of the Fort McMurray fire on behalf of Alberta fire management, while monitoring and looking after other fires and potential fires across the province.

Saskatchewan experienced a record-setting forest fire season last year and is preparing for something similar this year.

"We are mindful, though that while we're focused around the northwestern part of the province, in particular around the Fort Mac fire, there are other parts of the province we're continuing to monitor," Mckay said.

Watching the winds 

Steve Roberts from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment says the forecast appears to bring fair weather for Saskatchewan crews fighting wildfires. 

"This fire is not actually moving as aggressively as it is in Alberta," he said. "Favourable for us is there will be a wind shift forecasted for today for the next 24 to 36 hours. Winds will come from the east, move towards Alberta, which will push the smoke and fire back and also allow our crews access to the base of the fire in less smoky conditions."

Roberts says those winds are helping keep the fire from aggressively pushing further into Saskatchewan, and it will be significant for the province's fight against the fire.

"Rain will have to be a factor. There is likely not enough resources available to put out a fire of such a large size if weather does not cooperate. Even the efforts we've seen in Alberta where they were prepared,  but due to aggressive fire behaviour attributed to weather, they lost ground," Roberts said. "That happens in large fires. We saw it last year, we're seeing it this year."

He added that the wind shift will help in the short term, and anticipated cooler weather containing more moisture on its way across Alberta will become helpful on Saskatchewan's part of the wildfire fight.