Fort McMurray wildfire: Thousands evacuated as blaze spreads south

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Through the Inferno: Amazing Dashcam Video of Escape From Wildfire

The wildfires raging through the Canadian province of Alberta have grown into a behemoth blaze that has consumed an area bigger than New York City.

It has now scorched 85,000 hectares — 328 square miles — Alberta provincial premier Rachel Notley said Thursday. By comparison, all five boroughs of New York City add up to just 304.6 square miles.

Notley warned that the 49 infernos, which forced the evacuation of the city of Fort McMurray, could spread and devour more territory because "conditions are still tinder dry."

"Because so much of this is dependent on the weather ... that means that certainty is not a feature of any statements at this point," Notley said when asked if the worst of the fire was over. "Until we've got it under control, it would not be responsible to make any declarations."

There was a chance of rain in the forecast Thursday for Fort McMurray. But it appeared a deluge was needed to stop the intense wildfires that have already forced some 88,000 people to flee — the biggest evacuation in the province's history — and destroyed more than 1,600 homes and buildings.

While more than 1,000 firefighters frantically battled the blazes, at least seven of which were burning out of control, officials declared a state of emergency across the entire province of Alberta.

See more from this devastating fire:

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Alberta, Canada Wildfire -- Fort McMurray
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Fort McMurray wildfire: Thousands evacuated as blaze spreads south
The wildfires glow underneath The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Two RCMP police officers wear gas masks in the smoke from the wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
People wait at a roadblock as smoke rises from wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from the wildfire burning near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, in this image from British astronaut Tim Peake aboard the International Space Station May 6, 2016. REUTERS/European Space Agency/Tim Peake via social media/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A massive wildfire, which caused a mandatory evacuation, rages south of Fort McMurray near Anzac, Alberta, Canada May 4, 2016. . Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A flock of birds fly as smoke billows from the Fort McMurray wildfires in Kinosis, Alberta, Canada, May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A Canadian Joint Operations Command aerial photo shows wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this image posted on twitter May 5, 2016. Courtesy CF Operations/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 08: Smoke fills the air as a police officer stands guard at a roadblock along Highway 63 leading into Fort McMurray on May 8, 2016 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 07: Smoke from wildfires drifts across the night sky on May 7, 2016 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A wildfire burns on Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Wildfires raging through Alberta have spread to the main oil-sands facilities north of Fort McMurray, knocking out an estimated 1 million barrels of production from Canada's energy hub. Fire officials say the out-of-control inferno may keep burning for months without significant rainfall. Photographer: Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A huge plume of smoke from wildfires burning rises over Fort McMurray in this aerial photograph taken in Alberta, Canada, on Friday, May 6, 2016. The wildfires ravaging Canada's oil hub in northern Alberta have rapidly spread to an area bigger than New York city, prompting the air lift of more than 8,000 evacuees as firefighters seek to salvage critical infrastructure. Photographer: Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Smoke and flames can be seen along the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 6, 2016. Canadian police led convoys of cars through the burning ghost town of Fort McMurray Friday in a risky operation to get people to safety far to the south.In the latest chapter of the drama triggered by monster fires in Alberta's oil sands region, the convoys of 50 cars at a time are driving through the city at about 50-60 kilometers per hour (30-40 miles per hour) TV footage showed. / AFP / Cole Burston (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A Canadian Joint Operations Command aerial photo shows wildfires near neighborhoods in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this image posted on twitter May 5, 2016. Courtesy CF Operations/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 06: The remains of a charred bicycle sits in a residential neighborhood on May 6, 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ALBERTA, CANADA - MAY 05: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Aerial view of highway 63 south of Fort McMurray taken from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter on May 5, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces have air assets deployed in support of the Province of Alberta's wildfire emergency response efforts. (Photo by MCpl VanPutten / Department of National Defence in Canada / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 06: A swing set with the swings burned away sits in a residential neighborhood destroyed by a wildfire on May 6, 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FORT MCMURRAY, AB - MAY 06: Home foundations and shells of vehicles are nearly all that remain in a residential neighborhood destroyed by a wildfire on May 6, 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada Wildfires, which are still burning out of control, have forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents from the town. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
VERMILLION PASS, CANADA - APRIL 26: A forest in the Kootenay National Park destroyed by fire is viewed on April 26, 2016 at Vermillion Pass, Alberta, Canada. Kootenay National Park borders Banff Nationa Park and features glaciers, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, and snowcapped mountains. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
A convoy of cars sporadically heads South down Highway 63 after being stranded at a work camp north of Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 6, 2016. Canada on May 5, 2016 began airlifting to safety up to 25,000 people from the city of Fort McMurray forced from their homes by raging forest fires in Alberta's oil sands region.The authorities ordered the oil city of 100,000 people to be evacuated after firefighters backed by air tankers and helicopters failed to prevent the monster blaze from engulfing entire neighborhoods. / AFP / Cole Burston (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman picks through donated clothing and goods 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 / Cole Burston (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Exhausted and now living out of his truck, Fort McMurray resident Thomis Jonasson fills his vehicle with gas before heading towards Lac La Biche after evacuating his city of 62,000 due to raging wildfires on May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin
Ron Laybolt calls family from a parking lot in Conklin, Alta. after Fort McMurray, a city of 62,000, was evacuated due to raging wildfires on May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin
Wendy Tremblay, resident of Conklin, Alta., prepares cots for residents of Fort McMurray as they prepare to assemble in Conklin, Alta. after their city of 62,000 was evacuated due to raging wildfires on May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin
Fort McMurray resident Crystal Maltais buckles in her daughter, Mckennah Stapley, as they prepare to leave Conklin, Alberta, for Lac La Biche after evacuating their home in Fort McMurray on Tuesday May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his country's House of Commons that the government will match all donations to the Red Cross relief effort for the fire refugees.

"We will make it through this most difficult time together," he said.

PHOTOS: Entire City Flees Raging Wildfire in Canada

Meanwhile, escapees from the blaze counted their blessings — and feared for the future.

"We drove through flames," said escapee Sinead Cusack, who made it out of Fort McMurray with her husband and their cat. "Everything was burning....friends' houses burning. Not knowing who was where. Utter chaos."

"I just have a few clothes and valuables I could fit into a small suitcase and left," said Ian Seggie, who drove himself and some friends 467 miles south to Calgary — a seven-hour trip that took 14 hours because the highway was clogged with escapees. "It was a priority to get ourselves out."

Ryan Cox said he had just 45 minutes to pack a bag and get his wife Amanda and 2-year-old son Malcolm out of their townhouse.

"By the time we had gotten everything together, that was when the evacuation notice came," said Cox, now bunking in a hotel in Edmonton, some 280 miles south of the the fires. "Then when we had to drive through the valley I blew a tire, so I gunned it with a flat through downtown."

With the flames just 200 feet away, Cox said he pulled over his 2007 Ford Focus to change the tire — something he had never done before.

Luckily, said Cox, another motorist helped him and soon they found themselves fleeing through a frightening landscape that reminded him of the "Mad Max" movies and "The Grapes of Wrath."

Remarkably, there were no official reports of casualties except for a vehicle collision that Alberta Emergency Management Agency director Scott Long said hadn't been confirmed as caused by the fire.

Meanwhile, local officials also ordered a mandatory evacuation of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation — which are roughly 30 miles south of Fort McMurray.

"The fires that are surrounding Fort McMurray right now could go in any direction," teary-eyed Alberta lawmaker Brian Jean told CTV. "My home is burnt to the ground but it's just stuff. All my stuff, all my memories. I lost a son last year."

The evacuation was "just crazy," oil worker Victor Howald told CTV. "There were people pulled over in ditches, thousands of pickups without fuel. It felt like the apocalypse."

Fort McMurray sits near the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Shell said it has shut down production at its Shell Albian Sands mining operation. Suncor, the largest oil sands operator, has reduced production at its regional facility 15 miles north of the city. And many other companies evacuated non-essential staff.

Oil prices jumped early Thursday, Reuters reported, noting that prices were also affected by escalating fighting in Libya. International benchmark Brent crude futures were trading at $45.36 per barrel at 2.54 a.m. ET, up 74 cents or 1.7 percent from their last close, after three days of declining prices, it reported.

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