Fort McMurray fire: What we know

Updated 7:38 PM EDT, Fri May 6, 2016
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(CNN) —  

Along with some good news, a worrisome scenario was delivered Friday afternoon at a press briefing about the roaring wildfire in the Canadian city of Fort McMurray.

More than 1,200 escorted vehicles had made it out of town on Highway 63, headed for safety to the south. And, officials said, there was no evidence of looting by those who haven’t yet been evacuated.

But Mother Nature may throw a big curve ball.

“There is a high potential that this fire could double in size by the end of the day tomorrow,” said Chad Morrison, a senior fire official in Alberta.

Alberta officials have declared a state of emergency as they scramble to relocate thousands of evacuees.

Here’s what we know about the fire:

How did the wildfire start?

The exact cause is unclear.

Authorities said it could have been sparked by a human, such as with a discarded cigarette or an out-of-control campfire, or by nature such as lightning.

Fort McMurray resident Cameron Spring said wildfires caused by the above elements are common in the area.

How big?

The fire, which started Sunday, has torched at least 1,010 square kilometers (389 square miles), authorities said, up from 850 square kilometers (328 square miles) the day before.

A blaze of that size is larger than Singapore, and bigger than Chicago and Boston combined, according to CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

Size of the fire in graphics

The mammoth inferno has destroyed at least 1,600 structures and forced nearly 90,000 people to evacuate.

As it rages, officials have been forced to relocate thousands of evacuees for a second time.

But there’s one number that residents and officials are happy about: no fatalities.

“Take comfort tonight knowing that your friends and family are safe,” local officials tweeted.

Will it get better?

Morrison, the fire manager, has said he expects the fire will continue to burn for “weeks and weeks” in heavily forested but unpopulated areas.

Amid the fears the blaze could double, winds could lessen – at least temporarily – to the south, in Anzac and Gregoire Lake.

Still, officials made it clear the weather was not cooperating with firefighters.

“It’s extremely dry out there. Wind continues to push from the southwest, to push the fire to the northeast into the forested areas,” Morrison said.

Is it the only fire burning in the province?

No.

There are 40 wildfires in Alberta, with five considered out of control, officials say.

More than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters and 22 air tankers are battling the blazes. Additional firefighters will be deployed in the coming days.

Is there any threat to Alberta’s oil reserves?

Alberta has the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. So far, one of the largest oil companies in the region, Suncor, says none of its facilities have been damaged.

Officials said the oil companies have highly trained firefighting teams and facilities meant to keep wildfires at bay.

How can I help?

Several organizations are working to help evacuees, who were being encouraged to register at shelters so they can get cash assistance from the government.

The Edmonton Food Bank is accepting food and money donations that people can drop off at grocery stores and fire stations throughout Alberta.

To donate diapers, baby wipes, pillows and other items, reach out to the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services. The organization is accepting monetary support for those not in Edmonton.

The Canadian Red Cross also is seeking monetary donations to provide shelter, clothing and food for evacuees.

The complete list of how you can help can be found here.

CNN’s Keith Allen and Phil Gast contributed to this report.