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'The Beast Is Still Up': Alberta Wildfires Rage; Evacuees Told To Wait It Out

The size of the fires around Fort McMurray, Alberta, is now more than 210,000 acres. The blaze is seen here from a distance on Thursday. The province of Alberta is under a state of emergency.

Days after they fled a powerful wildfire, more than 80,000 people who live in and around Fort McMurray are told that "it will not be a matter of days" before they can return home. Gusting winds have helped the fires spread farther, and more evacuation plans are being formed.

"We're still here, we're still battling," regional fire chief Darby Allen told residents in a video update last night. "Things have calmed down in the city a little bit, but guys are out as we speak, fighting fires, trying to protect your property. The beast is still up, it's surrounding the city. And we're here doing our very best for you."

Conditions remain extreme — a total of 49 wildfires are now burning in Alberta, the government said last night. Of that number, seven are listed as out of control — and 18 were started Thursday. As of last night, the size of the combined fires in Alberta was 85,000 hectares — or more than 210,000 acres.

The effort to stop the fires, or at least to protect crucial infrastructure, now includes more than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers, the government says.

Damage to the Fort McMurray community is extensive, and regional leaders said it will be many days before it's safe. Last night, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley refused to speculate on when residents might return to see what's left of their homes — but she added, "unfortunately, we do know that it will not be a matter of days."

Reporting for NPR's Newscast unit, Dan Karpenchuk says, "The Alberta government says it's working on a transitional housing plan for families who have lost everything."

The fires around Fort McMurray have generated startling scenes of evacuees trying to escape the flames that threatened neighborhoods and towns. The Calgary Herald is highlighting a sequence of dashcam videos from Michel Chamberland, 25, who threw a few essentials into a bag after seeing smoke and hearing the crackle of flames from his front door.

"Oh, my God, I can feel the heat!" Chamberland says at one point in the video. At another point, what seems to be the darkness of night — with cars slowed to a crawl, hazards blinking — is revealed to be the result of thick black smoke.

Chamberland tells the Herald that he has licensed his video through YouTube to raise money for the recovery effort in Fort McMurray.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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