A woman takes photos of the burned remains of a house in the Abasand neighbourhood of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 9, 2016 after wildfires forced the evacuation of the town.
Photo by Chris Wattie/Reuters

Fort McMurray fire: Stunned but hopeful Alberta leaders get first look at devastation

Regional leaders and journalists got their first close-up look Monday at the cataclysmic landscape left behind by the raging wildfire in Alberta — and they saw hope.

Authorities raised the number of structures reported lost in the half-million-acre inferno near Fort McMurray to 2,400, up by 50 percent from Sunday.

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But Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said after Monday’s bus tour of the area that “we’ve saved almost 25,000 (structures), including the hospital, municipal buildings and every functioning school.”

The tour revealed a blackened, charred moonscape of smoky ruins, damage so stark that Intact Financial, Canada’s largest insurer, called “unprecedented.”

Charles Brindamour, Intact’s chief executive officer, said in a statement that the company has sent more than 1,000 claims workers to the city to help customers who’ve lost their homes, cars and businesses.

Photos from the monster forest fire ravaging western Canada
Canadian officials cautiously hailed a turning point in the battle to contain a raging wildfire.
Notley acknowledged, “It was quite overwhelming in some spots.” But she said, “It reinforced to me how much work and how much success was achieved over the last few days by those heroic firefighters.”

Notley promised that Fort McMurray would emerge “with real structural resilience, with most of its critical infrastructure preserved.”

“They will be rebuilt,” she promised.

But it will be a long, hard slog, she said, noting that gas and water service, waste disposal, health care “and much more” still need to be reestablished.

Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen said that’s because the fire is unprecedented in his experience.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Allen said. “”No one’s ever seen anything like this. They’re rewriting their formulas on how fires behave based on this fire.”

An emotional Melissa Blake, mayor of the surrounding Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, mourned the loss of many homes in the community, but at the same time, she rejoiced that “almost 90 percent are still up,” and she vowed that area would rebound.

RELATED: Monster wildfire continues to grow, could reach Saskatchewan

“I have absolute faith that we will have our community back,” Blake said. “I am absolutely certain that one day soon — maybe not as soon as we would want, but soon — we will be able to call this place home.”

Notley said it would be at least two weeks before any kind of schedule could be drawn up for residents to start to return and many more weeks before Fort McMurray could be considered safe.

“But it is going to be made safe,” she declared. “It is a home you are going to return to.” 

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.


Fort McMurray fire: Stunned but hopeful Alberta leaders get first look at devastation