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Hot weather, winds whip wildfire near Alberta oil sands

CALGARY, Alberta -- Hot and dry weather and strong winds were expected to push a massive wildfire burning near Fort McMurray, Alberta eastward Wednesday, threatening facilities and work camps in Canada's prized oil sands region.The fire, which be...

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An aerial view of Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. MCPL VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters

CALGARY, Alberta - Hot and dry weather and strong winds were expected to push a massive wildfire burning near Fort McMurray, Alberta eastward Wednesday, threatening facilities and work camps in Canada’s prized oil sands region.
The fire, which began early this month, forced the evacuation of thousands of workers Tuesday, prolonging a shutdown that has cut Canadian oil output by a million barrels a day. It destroyed a 665-room lodge for oil sands workers, then blazed eastward toward other camps.
The fire earlier in the month incinerated parts of Fort McMurray and forced the evacuation of the western Canadian city’s roughly 90,000 residents.
The fire is expected to expand in all directions Wednesday, said wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather, but it is mainly moving to the east and slightly north, in the direction of Suncor and Syncrude facilities.
“It’s going to be another hot and dry and windy day today but we’re hoping it might start tempering off at the end of the day here, and we might start seeing some of this rain either tomorrow or Friday,” Fairweather said.
The fire has grown to 1.04 million acres, Fairweather said.
No communities are in the fire’s immediate path.
Reached early on Wednesday, Syncrude spokesman Will Gibson said the company’s facilities were intact. Syncrude is majority owned by Suncor.
“The fire sits south of our lease with a series of current and former tailings facilities that form a natural fire break,” Gibson said in an email.
About 8,000 workers were evacuated from camps and facilities north of Fort McMurray Tuesday, with both Suncor and Syncrude removing all but bare essential staff from their major operations.
None of the oil sands have caught fire, and the industry has redoubled efforts to ensure facilities are well-protected. Officials said facilities have been cleared of vegetation and have lots of gravel on site, reducing the fire risk.
The wildfire is taking a toll on Alberta’s economy, with one study estimating that the lost oil production will cut the western Canadian province’s gross domestic product (GDP) by more than $53.91 million a day.
The Canadian supply disruptions have helped boost global oil prices, though Brent crude prices eased Wednesday as the lost Canadian production was tempered by rising supplies elsewhere.
In one encouraging sign for producers, cogeneration electric plants around Fort McMurray increased their output overnight with the restart of Suncor’s Firebag units, the operator of the province’s power grid said on Wednesday.
The evacuated residents of Fort McMurray are growing frustrated over the lack of an estimated time for their return to the oil sands hub, which they were forced to flee about two weeks ago.
Officials told a town hall meeting Tuesday that they were narrowing down return dates that they hoped to share soon, but added that the city remained unsafe.
The latest forecast showed temperatures were expected to reach a high of 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the Fort McMurray area Wednesday, and there was a 60 percent chance of rain Thursday.

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Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car May 7 on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Reuters

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Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car May 7 on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Reuters

Related Topics: ALBERTA
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