These images show how devastating the Fort McMurray fire really is

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A wildfire moves towards the town of Anzac from Fort McMurray, Alberta., on Wednesday May 4, 2016. Alberta declared a state of emergency Wednesday as crews frantically held back wind-whipped wildfires.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

The massive, 850 square-acre wildfire that has ravaged the remote north of Alberta has caused more than 80,000 people to flee the area of Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada’s oil sands. With few exceptions in the U.S., an entire town hasn’t been threatened on this scale for more than 100 years..

Canadian officials will start moving thousands of people from work camps north of Fort McMurray in a mass highway convoy Friday morning if it is safe from a massive wildfire raging in Alberta.

Officials airlifted 8,000 people on Thursday and will continue the airlift Friday, while a mass migration of cars will move south.

The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting the fire, but Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention, said rain is needed.

“Let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire,” he said. “It is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain.”

The fire continued to grow, but it is moving away from Fort McMurray and the rate of its growth has slowed. No rain clouds were expected around Fort McMurray until late Saturday, with 40 percent chance of showers, according to forecasts by Environment Canada.

 

In this image released by the Alberta RCMP on May 5, 2016, a police officer walks on a road past burned down houses in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada prepared to airlift to safety up to 25,000 people who were forced from their homes by raging forest fires in Alberta's oil sands region, and now risk getting trapped north of Fort McMurray. / AFP PHOTO / Alberta RCMP / RCMP / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / ALBERTA RCMP/ HO" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

A police officer walks on a road past burned down houses in Fort McMurray, Alberta. (AFP PHOTO)

Smoke fills the air as people drive on a road in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Greg Halinda/The Canadian Press via AP)

Smoke fills the air as people drive on a road in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Greg Halinda/The Canadian Press via AP)

Evacuees leave Fort McMurray in the early morning, after being stranded north of wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016. The Alberta provincial government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting the fire, but Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager of wildfire prevention, said rain is needed. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Evacuees leave Fort McMurray in the early morning, after being stranded north of wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Friday, May 6, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires rest at the evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Thursday, May 5, 2016. The Alberta government declared a province-wide fire ban in an effort to reduce the risk of more blazes in a province that is very hot and dry. The province of Alberta declared a state of emergency. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires rest at the evacuation center in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

Officials flew 8,000 evacuees to Edmonton and Calgary by Thursday night. They hope the highway will become safe enough on Friday to move the remaining people out via the south. It was not safe Thursday.

A helicopter will lead the evacuation convoy on Friday morning to make sure the highway is safe. It will pass through Fort McMurray where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the first convoy will be 400 vehicles and officials would see how that goes.

A plume of smoke hangs in the air as forest fires rage on in the distance in Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 4, 2016. Numerous vehicles can be seen abandoned on the highways leading from the raging forest fires in Fort McMurray and neighbouring communities have banded together to offer support in the form of food, water, and gasoline. / AFP PHOTO / Cole Burston

A plume of smoke hangs in the air as forest fires rage on in the distance in Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 4, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Cole Burston)

 

A displaced person looks at the fire on their mobile phone at a makeshift evacuee center in Lac la Biche, Alberta on May 5, 2016, after fleeing forest fires north of Fort McMurray. Raging wildfires pressed in on the Canadian oil city of Fort McMurray Thursday after more than 80,000 people were forced to flee, abandoning fire-gutted neighborhoods in a chaotic evacuation. No casualties have been reported from the monster blaze, which swept across Alberta's oil sands region driven by strong winds and hot, dry weather. / AFP PHOTO / Cole Burston

A displaced person looks at the fire on their mobile phone at a makeshift evacuee center in Lac la Biche, Alberta on May 5, 2016, after fleeing forest fires north of Fort McMurray. (AFP PHOTO / Cole Burston)

Map of teh area.

Map of teh area.

There have been no injuries or death in the province from the fires. Notley said financial support will be provided to Albertans and that cash cards may be made available for evacuated residents.

The Alberta government also declared a province-wide fire ban to reduce the risk of more blazes in a province that is very hot and dry.

Fort McMurray is surrounded by wilderness and is Canada’s main oil sands town. Despite the size of the town and its importance to the Canadian economy, there are essentially only two ways out via car. The region has the third largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.


FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 05: Drivers wait for clearance to take firefighting supplies into town on May 05, 2016 outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

Drivers wait for clearance to take firefighting supplies into town on May 05, 2016 outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Firefighters respond to the fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. (Jamee Lowndes via AP)

Firefighters respond to the fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. (Jamee Lowndes via AP)

Smoke fills the air as a small plane flies overhead in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, has been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents. (Kitty Cochrane/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Smoke fills the air as a small plane flies overhead in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Kitty Cochrane/The Canadian Press via AP)

Smoke rises from a wildfire outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. The entire population of the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, has been ordered to evacuate as a wildfire whipped by winds engulfed homes and sent ash raining down on residents. (Mary Anne Sexsmith-Segato/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Smoke rises from a wildfire outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Mary Anne Sexsmith-Segato/The Canadian Press via AP)

Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometers (29 square miles) Tuesday to 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles) on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that — at 850 square kilometers (328.2 square miles). That’s an area roughly the size of Calgary — Alberta’s largest city.

Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. Morrison said they are investigating the cause of the fire but he said it started in a remote forested area and said it could have been lightning.

A combination of factors conspired to make this wildfire especially ferocious, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The El Nino global weather system brought Alberta a mild winter and low snowpack, he said


Evacuees camp by a lake as smoke fills the sky near Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Alberta declared a state of emergency Wednesday as crews frantically held back wind-whipped wildfires. No injuries or fatalities have been reported. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Evacuees camp by a lake as smoke fills the sky near Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

A family takes refuge in the back of their boat after evacuation at a rest stop near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Thousands of residents were ordered to flee as flames moved into the Canadian oil sands city, destroying whole neighborhoods. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A family takes refuge in the back of their boat after evacuation at a rest stop near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

This handout photograph obtained courtesy of the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Department shows smoke rising from a heavily wooded area on May 3, 2016 in the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, where most of the 100,000 residents were ordered to leave town when the blaze swept through the oil sands region, in what is Alberta province's largest ever evacutation. "All of Fort McMurray is under a mandatory evacuation order," Alberta emergency services announced, after previously indicating that the northern edge of the fire was "growing rapidly." / AFP PHOTO / Lynn Daina

Smoke rising from a heavily wooded area on May 3, 2016 in the Canadian city of Fort McMurray. (AFP PHOTO / Lynn Daina)

“In a way, it’s a perfect storm,” Patzert said. “It’s been warm, it’s been dry and windy. It’s the in-between period before you’re in the full bloom of spring.”

The fire is driving one of the largest evacuations in North America in recent memory, said Bill Stewart, co-director of the University of California’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the University of California, Berkeley.

With few exceptions in the United States, an entire town hasn’t been threatened on this scale for more than 100 years, he said.

“You could add five times the number of firefighters, but you can’t get all the embers,” he said. “There’s no way to put out every ember flying over firefighters’ heads.”

People stop to take photos of a wildfire south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Thursday May 5, 2016. Raging wildfires in the Canadian province of Alberta have moved south, forcing three more communities to evacuate and an emergency operations center to move again. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

People stop to take photos of a wildfire south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Thursday May 5, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

A plane surveys the area near a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Thursday, May 5, 2016. An ever-changing, volatile situation is fraying the nerves of residents and officials alike as a massive wildfire continues to bear down on the Fort McMurray area of northern Alberta. The province of Alberta declared a state of emergency. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A plane surveys the area near a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Fire Rescue crews unload in preparation to battle a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Thursday, May 5, 2016. An ever-changing, volatile situation is fraying the nerves of residents and officials alike as a massive wildfire continues to bear down on the Fort McMurray area of northern Alberta. The province of Alberta declared a state of emergency. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Fire Rescue crews unload in preparation to battle a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

The fire has dealt a blow to the region’s crude production, with companies curtailing production or stopping it altogether.

Notley said the infrastructure for oil and gas production remains largely unaffected, but output is naturally down because their employees are not there.

The city’s airport suffered only minor damage because of the “herculean'” efforts of firefighters, said Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. Firefighters have focused on protecting key infrastructure like the water treatment plant, the hospital and the airport. Crews water bombed the city Thursday.

A wildfire flares up near Fort McMurray, Canada, Thursday, May 5, 2016. Canadian officials will start moving thousands of people from work camps north of devastated Fort McMurray in a mass highway convoy Friday morning if it is safe from the wildfire raging in Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A wildfire flares up near Fort McMurray, Canada, Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

A wildfire rages through Fort McMurray, Alberta, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed. (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A wildfire rages through Fort McMurray, Alberta, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP)

Story by The Associated Press