The massive blaze that tore through Fort McMurray and torched thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest has finally stopped growing as Alberta officials say firefighters have gained the upper hand.
On Monday, Alberta's wildfire office characterized the blaze as "being held" for the first time, meaning firefighters expect the inferno won't keep spreading. It may take several more months for the fire to be considered under control.
It's a turning point for a city that has lived through two years of hardship due to persistently low energy prices – thousands of jobs lost, billions of dollars' worth of energy projects cancelled – and then a wildfire that destroyed one-tenth of its houses.
"It's just wonderful news, and it's all thanks to the work of firefighters and a lot of rain," Shannon Stambaugh, a wildfire information officer, said about the fire being held.
It took 44 days for crews armed with axes and water, aided by an army of bulldozers, airplanes and helicopters, to tame the Fort McMurray fire.
Officially designated MWF-009 by officials, but dubbed the Beast by Fort McMurray's fire chief, the fire now covers 5,899 square kilometres of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan; it's the third-largest fire in Alberta's recorded history.
After growing explosively in early May, jumping highways and wide rivers, the fire barely grew over the past week as more than 2,000 firefighters attacked the blaze and were aided by drenching rain showers. After weeks of parched conditions, Fort McMurray residents have grappled with flooding in recent days.
Nearly 80 millimetres of rain have fallen on the fire since May 1, according to Alberta's wildfire office, and nearly three-quarters of that rain fell over the past two weeks.
"It'll be a month or two until it's under control based on current resources and weather. We'll reassess resources as we go forward, but it'll be a couple of months," said wildfire information officer Lynn Daina.
For the wildfire to be considered "under control," it would need to be completely contained and expected to be extinguished.
With nearly 90 per cent of the fire now contained, much of it encircled with fireguards torn into the forest by bulldozers, firefighters are in the mop-up phase. For the next two months, they'll be using infrared scanners to find hot spots that could cause remaining trees to catch fire.
Officials caution that fire that has moved into the roots of trees or into muskeg could continue to burn for years. Because so many of the trees are already lost to the flames, there is very little threat to Fort McMurray.
About 1,000 firefighters are still working on the blaze around Fort McMurray, half the number of a week ago. On Sunday, 300 South African firefighters were flown home after a pay dispute with their South African employer turned into a strike.