It will take weeks before the massive Alberta wildfire can be extinguished, officials warned Friday as the provincial government announced $100-million in emergency cash for tens of thousands of people who have been displaced from the Fort McMurray area.
The fire continued to burn out of control on Friday, but shifting winds were expected to push it northeast toward a forested area and away from communities and industrial facilities.
While firefighters are able to contain the flames when they approach specific communities, their action alone is not enough to put an end to the conflagration that now covers an area larger than the city of Calgary.
"We do need some rain, there is no question about it. And even once we get rain, there's still going to be a lot of fire out there and a lot of work," said Chad Morrison, senior manager for wildfire prevention at the Government of Alberta.
"We'll be here for weeks and weeks to put that fire out."
Premier Rachel Notley announced emergency cash payments for displaced people: $1,250 per adult, and $500 per dependent.
The financial assistance will be handed to about 80,000 people, starting next Wednesday.
The Premier reiterated that it could be a while before residents can head home.
"The city of Fort McMurray is not safe to return to," she said. "And this will be true for a significant period of time."
The townsite remained under police guard and a return date cannot be decided until the fire is away from the city and damages are assessed, Ms. Notley said.
Unlike the Slave Lake fire of 2011, this year's blaze is not just stoked by the wind, Mr. Morrison said.
"This fire is a fuel-driven fire, which is the result of very dry conditions for a very long time. We have not seen rain in this area for the last two months, and so that's why this fire will continue to burn for a very long time until we see significant rain," he said.
"Once we see some rain, even then, we're still going to need all those firefighters to get out there and put that fire out."
Mr. Morrison added that no preventive measures could have been enough to spare Fort McMurray from this week's precipitous evacuation.
"With the nature of this fire and the dangerous conditions we had, no firebreaks would have stopped this fire," he said, noting that the flames managed to jump the Athabasca River, which is a kilometre-wide.
"This is an extreme, rare, rare fire event and that's something that's historic to us."
The authorities are now trying to relocate the 25,000 Fort McMurray residents who fled to oil camps north of the city when their neighbourhoods were evacuated Tuesday.
Ms. Notley said about 7,000 had been flown south, through flights organized by the oil industry, the Alberta Energy Regulator and the military.
Another 5,500 people were still earmarked for flights while the rest were being moved in motorized convoys, escorted through the fire zone by the RCMP.
Military aircraft have kept watch on the convoy, using techniques once used in Afghanistan, said Brigadier-General Wayne Eyre, head of the 3rd Canadian Division, the army command for Western Canada.
He said the Canadian Forces have deployed four Griffon helicopters, one Chinook helicopter and a Hercules transport plane.
Officials said that more than 1,000 square kilometres of land were burning on Friday.
Satellite imagery showed that smoke from Alberta had drifted southeast across the continent, all the way to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.