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Winds expected to move fire away from Fort McMurray on Wednesday: province

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A wildfire burning near Fort McMurray is expected to move away from the community on Wednesday.

The MWF-017 wildfire near Fort McMurray is now 5.5 kilometres from the city's landfill, two kilometres closer than it was on Tuesday afternoon.

The fire is 4.5 kilometres from the Highway 63 and Highway 881 intersection and is about 21,000 hectares in size — about the size of Victoria, B.C. — according to the latest information.

Officials expected fire behaviour to be subdued in the morning, but sunny conditions in the afternoon could fan the flames.

"Active fire behaviour is expected today, but it should be less than what we saw yesterday, thanks to cooler temperatures and weaker winds," Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire told reporters. "Winds from the northwest at 10 km/h are expected today, which should push the fire away from Fort McMurray and Highway 63."

"The change in the weather gives firefighters a good window to make progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done to contain this wildfire," Josee St-Onge of Alberta Wildfire said. "We are still expecting high fire activity today. Firefighters will be back on the fire line today and will work to establish a containment line.

"Helicopters and air tankers will continue to drop water and retardant on the active edges of this fire. Heavy Equipment Operators will build fire guards to the southwest of Fort McMurray." 

A fire ban will take effect in the community on Wednesday at 2 p.m. MT.

"Under the fire ban all outdoor wood fires on public and private land are banned," Todd Loewen, minister of forestry and parks said.

In addition, an off-highway vehicle restriction will be implemented for the Fort McMurray forest area. Under an OHV restriction the recreational use of OHVs is prohibited."

The fire ban replaces a fire restriction that was previously in place.

"Originally, we thought that a fire restriction would be enough to prevent human-caused wildfires in the area. But it was decided that it needed to be escalated to absolutely no fires allowed at all," St-Onge said.

Evacuee information

Four neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray were evacuated on Tuesday.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) officials said people should expect to remain out of their homes for several days.

"If you are currently under an evacuation order, please prepare to remain evacuated until at least Tuesday, May 21," RMWB fire Chief Jody Butz said. "This does not guarantee that you will return on that date but we want to advise you to plan to be evacuated until then."

Provincial officials said Wednesday morning that an estimated 6,000 people have left the community.

A reception centre has been set up at the Clareview Recreation Centre in Edmonton.

"I want to convey to the evacuees coming into our city that our city welcomes you," Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Wednesday. "You're going through the most difficult time leaving your home, leaving your possessions and you want to be supported."

Anyone living in the evacuated neighbourhoods can go to the centre for food and lodging.

Evacuation centres are also open in Cold Lake and Lac La Biche.

Officials are asking evacuees to stay at the evacuation centre they are already at and not to attempt to transfer to a different reception centre.

Residents who did not register at an evacuation centre or who chose to leave without an evacuation order will not be reimbursed for expenses, officials say.

Anyone who is out of their home for seven days or more as a result of a wildfire evacuation is entitled to a payment of $1,250 per adult and $500 per child.

Premier Danielle Smith says support is also available for residents in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation.

"We provide hotel vouchers, food, and all of the additional communication support, it's when an evacuation lingers longer than a week that it can become a financial hardship," she said.

Anyone who was not able to bring their animals when they left is asked to submit a request online.

RCMP say a number of tactics are being employed to secure evacuated neighbourhoods, including perimeter control, roving patrols, and special tactical operations and emergency response teams to react to any reported incidents.

All Fort McMurray public and Catholic schools are closed for the remainder of the week. 

Butz said any residents not living in one of the evacuated neighbourhoods could return home any time.

"If you left Fort McMurray yesterday not as a part of the evacuation order, you're welcome to come home. And you're welcome to feel safe being home. The highway is open in both directions and the traffic is flowing freely. Businesses and day-to-day operations continue for many parts of the region." 

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