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Wildfire Prompts Partial Evacuation of Canada’s Oil-Sands Capital

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Portions of Fort McMurray, Alberta, are being evacuated as a wildfire approaches the city, the unofficial capital of Canada’s oil sands industry that almost burned to the ground during a historic blaze eight years ago.

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The 11,000-hectare (27,000 acre) blaze expanded overnight and is moving northeastward toward the city. The fire is now about 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) from the Fort McMurray landfill, southwest of the city, but thick smoke is making it difficult to determine exact distances, Alberta Wildfire said in a release. Winds are blowing from the southwest, gusting as high as 40 kilometers an hour.

“This will be a challenging day for firefighters,” the agency warned, adding some had to be pulled from the fire line for safety reasons.

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Canadian Crews Battle Wildfire Threatening Remote Western Town

Rising temperatures across western Canada increased fire risk in recent days, contributing to poor air quality in Calgary over the weekend. Rain in the Fort McMurray area was supposed to ease the wildfires on Monday, but fire activity increased in the afternoon and into the evening, according to Alberta Wildfire. More than 65% of Canada was abnormally parched or in drought at the end of March, threatening another smoke-filled summer after last year’s fire season, which was Canada’s worst on record.

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, where Fort McMurray is located, declared a state of local emergency. Residents of the communities of Beacon Hill, Abasand, Prairie Creek and Grayling Terrace were ordered to evacuate. Abasand and Beacon Hill had about 6,000 residents in 2021, according to the Municipal Census Report.

Fort McMurray, in a remote and heavily forested part of the province, was ravaged by a blaze in 2016 that burned down large sections of the city, forcing thousands to evacuate and temporarily shutting more than 1 million barrels a day of oil output. The fire caused about C$3.7 billion ($2.7 billion) in insured losses, making it Canada’s costliest natural disaster.

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The current fire is one of three that are listed as out of control in Alberta and the closest to the oil sands, where the bulk of Canada’s 4.9 million barrels a day of crude is produced. The fire prompted an alert Friday that put the city’s 70,000 residents on notice to be prepared to leave.

The fire isn’t currently near any major oil sands mines, but its southern perimeter is within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Athabasca Oil Corp.’s Hangingstone well site, which produced almost 7,500 barrels of oil a day in February, Alberta Energy Regulator data show. The company didn’t respond to questions on the status of the facility.

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In addition, two Inter Pipeline Ltd. natural gas liquid lines and a Pembina Pipeline Corp. crude pipeline pass through the west end of the wildfire zone, according to Alberta Energy Regulator and Alberta Wildfire data. Inter Pipeline said in an email its assets haven’t been affected, but the company is monitoring the situation. Pembina didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Emails to the biggest oil sands companies in the area, including Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Imperial Oil Ltd., which operate massive oil sands mines to the north of the city, regarding the impact of the evacuations on their operations were not immediately returned.

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Meanwhile, a blaze in British Columbia continues to threaten the town of Fort Nelson, on the northern edge of a major natural gas producing region. The town’s 3,000 residents are under an evacuation order and new evacuation orders and alerts were issued Monday for nearby areas.

Copyright 2024 Bloomberg.

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Topics
Catastrophe
Natural Disasters
Wildfire
Energy
Oil Gas
Canada

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