EDMONTON — The man who has been the face of the fire fight in Fort McMurray is taking some time off.
While the fire still rages out of control in the forest, Wood Buffalo fire Chief Darby Allen says work inside the city is moving toward recovery and that's not his expertise.
He says he will be heading south to Edmonton to have a beer and spend some time with his wife and two adult sons.
He's planning to be back in Fort McMurray in about a week to resume his job as fire chief again.
Fire crews battle the Fort McMurray wildfire on Wednesday. (Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Allen has been one of the people leading the battle against the wildfire that swept into the city last week and his heartfelt updates on social media have made him a celebrity of sorts.
More than 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed in the blaze and 530 were damaged, but firefighters under his charge have been credited with saving up to 90 per cent of the city.
Crews continued to snuff out flareups and seek out hot spots Thursday while inspectors assessed damage to homes and businesses.
"We know that this is not what Fort McMurray and area residents want to hear, but this is what we need to do."
Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee says as the focus shifts to stabilization and recovery, the key goals are making sure the fire is completely out, restoring utilities and ensuring the hospital is functional.
That's especially important in an isolated region like Fort McMurray where the next nearest hospital is hours away, she told a briefing in Edmonton.
Larivee expects it will take five days to assess all structures in the city, but emphasized there is still no fixed date for a return.
"We know that this is not what Fort McMurray and area residents want to hear, but this is what we need to do to ensure safety,'' she said.
A burned car and rubble are seen outside Fort McMurray. (Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
"The good news is that there are a lot of people already working in the community to make it safe,'' she continued.
"Power and data service has been restored to the downtown area. We have damage assessment teams on site and they inspected 520 structures yesterday from the outside ... so we are beginning to develop a clearer picture.''
The military is pulling out, but Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, commander of Joint Task Force West, said personnel will remain on high alert throughout the summer.
"We have had a bit of a break here ... but we are going to see more hot, dry weather."
Fire official Chad Morrison said cooler weather has helped crews battle the blaze, which has grown to more than 2,400 square kilometres, but infrared scanners show there are still hot spots outside the city.
"We have had a bit of a break here ... but we are going to see more hot, dry weather starting Saturday,'' he said.
"The good news with that is we will continue to see some southwest winds that will push the fire away from the community into the remote forested areas.
"That being said, we are long from over in this fight.''
Some neighbourhoods were devastated by the blaze. (Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
More than 850 firefighters supported by 33 helicopters, 13 air tankers and 93 pieces of heavy equipment were on the job Thursday.
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management reiterated the importance of preparing the city's hospital to reopen.
"The primary focus is the emergency department, diagnostic imagery and labratory services as well as the H-VAC system,'' he said.
"There was some water and smoke damage. As you can well imagine, one of the most sterile places that we have to have is the hospital, so there is a lot of work to get that done.''
Evacuees look through donated items at a camp in Wandering River, Alta.. (Photo: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Meanwhile, long lineups formed at locations where the province was distributing debit cards to evacuees to help pay for immediate needs.
Some people arrived hours before the centres opened. In Edmonton, that meant having to wait in frosty temperatures, while wet snow fell for a time on evacuees lined up in Calgary.