UPDATE 3-Cooler weather welcomed in Canada's fire-stricken energy heartland

Fri May 20, 2016 8:26pm EDT
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(Adds finance minister on economic impact of fires)

By Eric M. Johnson and Nia Williams

CALGARY May 20 (Reuters) - Firefighters battling a massive blaze in Canada's energy heartland were aided on Friday by a second day of light rain and winds that held flames back from oil sands facilities, as producers signaled a gradual increase in operations.

The wildfire in northern Alberta has blackened more than 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of land, six times the size of New York City, since it erupted earlier this month.

It also triggered a prolonged shutdown that has cut Canadian oil output by a million barrels a day.

The footprint had already exceeded the total area burned during Alberta's entire 2015 fire season, and it jumped Thursday into the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

The fire's growth slowed on Friday as firefighters were helped by colder, damper weather that began a day earlier and vastly improved air quality, provincial authorities said.

"We expect to hold this fire in place over the weekend," Alberta Wildfire Manager Chad Morrison told a news conference.

Morrison said that fire crews hope to use the improved conditions to advance further against the blaze. Authorities plan to roughly double the number of firefighters over the next two weeks to about 2,100 personnel backed by bulldozers and aircraft dumping flame retardant.   Continued...