Fort McMurray fire evacuation biggest in Alberta history

About 88,000 residents of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta have been evacuated from a wildfire that has destroyed or damaged 1,600 structures. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called the event the biggest evacuation in the history of the province.

The fire has been aided by strong winds, high temperatures, and low relative humidity. Officials estimated the fire had covered 718,500 acres and impacted more than a dozen communities.

More than 200 firefighters are involved. Firefighters are working to protect Highway 63, the only major route through Fort McMurray. All commercial flights in and out of the town have been suspended.

Alberta Energy Regulator said operators with infrastructure in the possible fire path have AER approval to build berms and walls to protect their facilities on the condition that it does not create adverse public or environmental impacts. AER also asked operators to provide fuel, firefighters, shelter, and air services.

Suncor Energy Inc. said its foundation has provided a grant of $150,000 to the Canadian Red Cross. Imperial Oil Ltd. said its foundation has donated $100,000.

Suncor said its in-situ operations are running at reduced rates with reduced availability of diluent in the region. The company has demobilized noncritical support to allow space for evacuees at its camps.

Shell Canada shut production at its Albian mining operations north of Fort McMurray to focus on getting families out of the region. Shell said 25 flights departed the Albian airstrip on May 4. Its Albian Village work camp has capacity for 2,000 people; beds and food remain available as families leave by plane (OGJ Online, May 4, 2016).

ConocoPhillips Canada said it shut down its Surmont operations. It has evacuated all members of the public sheltered at Surmont, and workers, to Edmonton.

Connacher Oil & Gas Ltd. said it has curtailed production at its Great Divide leases southwest of Fort McMurray.

Athabasca Oil Corp. on May 4 said there was no current impact on operations at Hangingstone as the fire front was about 15 km north. It is trucking diluents to the site as the Polaris diluents line has been shut-in.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. said it is providing accommodations for evacuees at its camp and that some of its employees and equipment are involved in fighting the fire in Fort McMurray.

Residents of Gregoire were evacuated south of Fort McMurray, with some going to the Anzac Recreation Centre and others driving toward Edmonton. Residents of other areas were evacuated 21 km north to Noralta Lodge. But Noralta is full and many refugees have been sent further north to other work camps.

Staff from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo went door-to-door on May 4 notifying remaining residents of busses that were to depart at midnight.

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