UPDATE 6-Canada getting handle on Alberta wildfire, no restart yet for oil operations

Sun May 8, 2016 9:49pm EDT
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(Adds evacuee comment, oil price, Syncrude statement)

By Liz Hampton and Rod Nickel

GREGOIRE LAKE, Alberta May 8 (Reuters) - Canadian officials showed some optimism on Sunday they were beginning to get on top of the country's most destructive wildfire in recent memory, as favorable weather helped firefighters and winds took the flames southeast, away from oil sands boomtown Fort McMurray.

There was still no time line, however, for getting Fort McMurray's 88,000 inhabitants back into what remains of their town, or when energy companies would be able to restart operations at evacuated sites nearby. The wildfires have cut Canada's vast oil sands output in half.

"It definitely is a positive point for us, for sure," said Alberta fire official Chad Morrison in a news briefing, when asked if the fight to contain the flames had a reached a turning point.

"We're obviously very happy that we've held the fire better than expected," said Morrison. "This is great firefighting weather, we can really get in here and get a handle on this fire, and really get a death grip on it."

The wildfire scorching through Canada's oil sands region in northeast Alberta since last Sunday night had been expected to double in size on Sunday, threatening the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

But with the fire moving into its second week, light rains and cooler temperatures helped hold it back, giving officials hope that they could soon begin assessing the damage to Fort McMurray, close to where the fire started.

"As more and more fire has burned out around the city and the fuel around the city starts to disappear ... we are starting to move into that second phase of securing the site and assessing the site," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told the same media briefing.   Continued...