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Fires evolve to threaten Alberta oil sands

As many as 8,000 people impacted by evacuation orders.

By Daniel J. Graeber
New evacuation orders in place for parts of Alberta province force energy companies to strengthen their emergency response plans. Photo by MCpl VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/UPI
New evacuation orders in place for parts of Alberta province force energy companies to strengthen their emergency response plans. Photo by MCpl VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/UPI | License Photo

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, May 17 (UPI) -- After moving to return some services to normal, energy companies working in Alberta said Tuesday they were evacuating staff in response to wildfires.

Canadian energy company Suncor, one of the largest operators in the Alberta oil sands, said it was moving its personnel out of the Wood Buffalo municipality under orders from regional emergency authorities.

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"Also as a precautionary measure, we have started a staged and orderly shutdown of our base plant operations," the company said in a statement Tuesday.

As much as 1 million barrels per day in Canadian oil sands production are impacted by wildfires that have been raging in Alberta near the area of Fort McMurray for most of the month. Some companies started moving staff back to the region last week and Suncor stressed that there's been no damage to any of its facilities.

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Authorities in Wood Buffalo said about 8,000 people are impacted by evacuation orders due to evolving fire conditions. As many 90,000 people were initially evacuated from the area in the largest emergency response in Canadian history.

The provincial government of Alberta said the situation remains "out of control," with 15 fires blazing over an area estimated to cover nearly 1,100 square miles.

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Canadian energy company Enbridge said it was now working with provincial firefighters to help contain a fire near a facility about 40 miles southeast from Fort McMurray. While the facility is designed to minimize the impact of fires, the company said it was spraying down structures as a precaution.

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"Some pipelines into and out of the terminal are operating, and we continue to monitor the situation very closely," the company said in a statement.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who met recently with oil company executives, said the situation in Fort McMurray was fluid. Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place and some area highways are closed down. Most of the conditions necessary for a full return of Fort McMurray haven't been met.

"This remains an active fire zone," she said in a statement.

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