Canada wildfire moves into Saskatchewan, but little risk to mines, farms

Fri May 20, 2016 2:46pm EDT
 
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By Rod Nickel

May 20 (Reuters) - A Canadian wildfire has moved from oil-rich Alberta into Saskatchewan, but that province's fertile farms and lucrative mines are tucked far away from the blaze's path.

The fire in northern Alberta hit the town of Fort McMurray in early May, forcing widespread evacuations and triggering a prolonged energy shutdown. Rain and wind on Friday were helping to beat flames back from oil sands facilities.

One of the nearest Saskatchewan communities to the fire is impoverished La Loche, population 2,600, but it is partly protected by a nearby lake.

Saskatchewan accounts for all of Canada's uranium production, second in the world only to Kazakhstan. It is home to 45 percent of the global reserves of potash, a mineral used to fertilize crops, and its plains grow more wheat than Argentina.

The province's uranium mines and mills, operated by Cameco Corp and Areva SA, are more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the boundary with Alberta, said Gary Delaney, Saskatchewan's chief geologist.

Exploration uranium projects in the southwest part of the Athabasca basin owned by Nexgen Energy Ltd and Fission Uranium Corp are closer to the blaze.

Even so, the damage from forest fires last year in the area mitigate the risk now, said Rob Chang, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald who follows uranium companies.

"It's always important to keep track," he said, noting that the fire can move at high speeds. But "trees in that area are already pretty dead."

Potash mines, run by Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, Mosaic Co and Agrium Inc, operate far south of the wildfire.

Saskatchewan's farms, which produce more canola and wheat than any other province, are also well south of the wildfire's path. Farmers are in planting season, meaning there is little crop material to burn in any case. (Reporting by Rod Nickel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)