Canadian firefighters make progress against fire in oil sands region

Thu May 19, 2016 7:44pm EDT
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By Nia Williams and Eric M. Johnson

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Firefighters made progress against a wildfire in the Fort McMurray region of northern Alberta on Thursday as a shift in winds pushed it away from communities and oil sands facilities.

The massive blaze has charred 505,000 hectares (1.2 million acres), up from 483,000 on Wednesday. On Thursday, it moved to the neighboring province of Saskatchewan, but Alberta wildfire officer Chad Morrison said cooler weather and rain would aid efforts to get it under control.

"We saw a trace of rain this morning, so that's actually helped our firefighting efforts," he added.

Morrison said the burned area equals the total consumed in last year's entire fire season.

The blaze, which hit Fort McMurray in early May, surged north on Monday. It forced the evacuation of 8,000 oil sands workers, destroyed a work camp and prolonged a shutdown that has cut Canadian oil output by a million barrels a day.

Alberta's GDP is expected to take a hit as a result of the fire, the government said this week, and comes on the back of a two-year slump in global crude prices.

Credit agency S&P lowered its debt rating for Alberta to AA from AA+ on Thursday, citing a weak budgetary performance and high debt.

Morrison said the fire burned near Suncor Energy's base plant and the Syncrude facility on Wednesday, but fire breaks held and the threat has diminished.   Continued...

A Canadian flag flies over damage caused by a wildfire, which prompted the mass evacuation of over 88,000 people, in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on May 14, 2016. Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Handout via REUTERS