Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says 2,400 buildings were lost in the devastation caused when an “ocean of fire” surrounded Fort McMurray.
But she praised firefighters for saving 25,000 more from what at one point looked like certain destruction.
“It reinforced to me how much work and how much success was achieved over the last few days by those heroic firefighters, who managed to stop a fire that, on one hand, was capable of levelling blocks and blocks of houses and then suddenly stopping right next to houses that remain untouched and habitable,” Notley said after a ground tour Monday of some burned-out areas.
“The fast action and the hard work and the dedication and the smarts of these first responders has, it appears, saved almost 90 per cent of the city of First McMurray.”
The hospital, municipal building and all functioning schools were saved, she said.
But she reiterated that the community is not safe and it will be at least two weeks before a schedule can be released for residents to return.
Regional fire chief Darby Allen said large parts of the city have no power, no water and no gas.
About 80,000 people were forced to flee when a ravenous wildfire attacked several neighbourhoods in the northern Alberta city last week.
“We are proud of everybody who worked on this fire,” Allen told media on a bus tour.
“We want to let our citizens know that home is still here. And as soon as we can get you back, we will.”
Darby said between 40 and 50 per cent of Fort McMurray could have been destroyed if firefighters hadn’t been able to hold back the flames at key points, especially the downtown.
The tour revealed a silent testament to the wildfire that overwhelmed crews last Tuesday and marauded through south and southwest sections of the city.
It left behind scorched skeletal outlines of furniture, vehicles and buildings. A cracked birdbath. The metal outline of a shed. A front doorstep leading to nowhere. Kids’ bikes burned where they were chained up. Metal-topped barbecues on flame-streaked patios.
It was a fire of diabolical whimsy.
Homes that appear not to have been touched now face craters just across the street. Pristine bus stops and mailboxes remain ready for business next to charred ruins.
The dominant colours are blacks, greys, whites and ochre.
The hazy skyline is punctuated by towering light poles and the odd tree: tall, black and twisted with stubby twig arms.
The Super8 motel is gone. Only the signature red-and-yellow sign remains.
Cars and trucks remained torched where they were abandoned when about 80,000 residents grabbed a few belongings and raced for safety.
Now the vehicles are scorched hulks, their paint jobs blistered and cracked, seared by flame. Wheels are burned to blackened hubs, upholstery is consumed to the springs, windows are smashed and dashboards melted to goo have hardened in lava-like droops and swirls.
It’s a world of irregular shapes and fractured lines. Sections of jagged walls and brick rise from black-grey foundations like broken off sections of jigsaw puzzles.
Walls, beams and posts lie folded and twisted on top of one another. Utility meters bend to the left and right. Trees droop. Blown-out top floor windows are open to the sky in both directions.
There is wreckage everywhere.
But there are signs reconstruction has begun.
Teams work on power lines into the city, 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
Notley said Sunday the fight against the fire has stabilized to the point the government can assess damage with the goal of eventually lift the mandatory evacuation order and allowing residents to return.
The evacuees are staying in hotels, campgrounds, with friends or at reception centres.
The main one in Edmonton has had to deal with an added problem — about 50 people have fallen ill with a stomach bug.
The wildfire sat at just over 2,000 square kilometres on Monday and moved within 30 kilometres of the Saskatchewan boundary. But lower than seasonal temperatures have given crews a chance to extinguish hotspots in Fort McMurray.
Across the country, the Red Cross has collected $60 million in donations, including on Monday $250,000 from Atlantic Canada and $500,000 from Unifor, a union representing 4,000 oilsands workers.