Rescue workers retrieving pets in aftermath of Canadian wildfire

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WANDERING RIVER, Alberta, May 7 (Reuters) - Emergency workers in Alberta are joining a grassroots effort to rescue pets trapped in homes after a massive wildfire forced their owners to leave without them.

Kevin Wonitowy, a locksmith for 20 years, said he entered the city of Fort McMurray on Saturday to pick the locks of homes with pets, after a request from the local emergency management team.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which oversees Fort McMurray, said on its website that it was sending teams to rescue pets at their owners' request but noted the use of a locksmith would be a last resort.

Wonitowy said he would be needed for three to four days in the nearly empty city that previously housed 88,000. He will open doors for emergency workers who will take the pets to shelters.

Wood Buffalo has said it is not doing interviews, and calls to officials went unanswered.

Photos of the devastating Canadian fire:

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Alberta, Canada Wildfire -- Fort McMurray
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Rescue workers retrieving pets in aftermath of Canadian wildfire
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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Fort McMurray was evacuated with little warning on Tuesday, with residents carrying so few possessions that a nearby community set up a used-clothing station for them.

Access has since been restricted, and many owners who abandoned their pets longed to reunite with them, calling on animal shelters and appealing for information online.

Just days after the evacuation, some residents entered the city after they said they obtained permission from local authorities.

Bryan Jones said he and a friend rescued 27 dogs and cats on Thursday.

But local police and officials have said they do not want non-emergency personnel in the city, warning that there is still thick smoke and major damage.

Even so, pet lovers have been making grassroots efforts to help.

Angel Rowe of Leduc, Alberta, south of Edmonton, said he organized a convoy to head up to Fort McMurray on Friday evening to support people like Jones. Rowe said the convoy would be stationed outside Fort McMurray to transport the rescued pets to animal shelters.

A local non-profit's website showed more than 80 animal rescue groups had opened their doors to evacuees' pets.

Reunification with owners, however, may not be on the horizon for every animal. Even people who brought their pets with them during evacuation ended up unable to take care of them, said Tammy Dumais, who runs the Guardian Angel Animal Rescue Society in Edmonton.

Dumais said owners who fled south have handed over at least 11 cats to her organization.

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