4,000 from oil sand camps evacuated as Alberta wildfire shifts

Damage caused by a wildfire that swept through some neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, Alberta, last Saturday. The latest mandatory evacuation alert covered 12 work camps north of the city.
Damage caused by a wildfire that swept through some neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, Alberta, last Saturday. The latest mandatory evacuation alert covered 12 work camps north of the city.ST PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

CALGARY (Canada) • A shift in a massive wildfire burning around the oil sand hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has prompted the evacuation of some 4,000 people from work camps around major oil projects.

The mandatory evacuation alert covered 12 work camps north of the city, with workers being moved south and all northbound traffic once again cut off at the city.

The entire population of Fort McMurray, about 90,000 people, was forced to flee the Canadian city nearly two weeks ago as the uncontrolled wildfire raged through some neighbourhoods and destroyed about 15 per cent of structures.

On Monday, the blaze continued to burn uncontrolled, covering 285,000ha, officials said. They noted that firefighting efforts will be challenging over the next couple of days with hot, dry conditions and lightning fires expected.

Roughly a million barrels per day of oil sands crude production was shut down as a precaution and because of disruptions to regional pipelines.

Firefighters have managed to protect much of Fort McMurray but evacuated residents are still not allowed to return to their homes, partly because of "thousands" of hot spots, wildfire manager Chad Morrison said.

The fire threatened a crude oil tank farm operated by Enbridge Inc, south of Fort McMurray, on Monday. The blaze, about 1km away from the tank farm, was brought under control with the wind cooperating as the company's industrial firefighters tackled the fire, officials said.

Enbridge said a firebreak around the terminal was being widened and that crews were assessing other fire suppression tactics such as spraying down facilities.

A Suncor Energy spokesman said 120 people were evacuated from its MacKay River plant and camps as a precautionary measure on Monday afternoon, adding that the facilities were not at risk.

Syncrude, a joint venture among numerous energy companies, said on Twitter that it was also relocating its workers to safety.

Firefighters have managed to protect much of Fort McMurray but evacuated residents are still not allowed to return to their homes, partly because of "thousands" of hot spots, wildfire manager Chad Morrison said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said there was still no timeline on when residents could return. Officials said the air quality in the city had deteriorated, with the air quality health index, usually measured on a scale of 1-10, at 38 on Monday.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC News the Fort McMurray fire would be a challenge to the economy as well as a human challenge, but he had no price tag yet on how much the disaster would cost the federal government.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline '4,000 from oil sand camps evacuated as Alberta wildfire shifts'. Print Edition | Subscribe