Fire evacuation orders lifted north of Fort McMurray

AP News
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Posted: May 21, 2016 11:43 AM
Fire evacuation orders lifted north of Fort McMurray

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — Alberta officials on Saturday lifted mandatory evacuation orders in some areas north of Fort McMurray, where a raging wildfire has forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 people and the closure of oil sands operations.

Officials said conditions have improved in some parts north of the oil sands city. Suncor Energy Inc. and Syncrude will now be able to resume their idled northern oil sands operations and bring back evacuated workers.

About 8,000 oil sands workers in camps north of Fort McMurray were evacuated after gusting winds and high temperatures caused the fire to move rapidly toward them earlier this week.

Northern Alberta is the heartland of Canada's oil sands industry and the effects of the enormous wildfire on the oil sector have prompted forecasters to trim their 2016 economic growth predictions for the entire country.

The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray, a former frontier outpost-turned-city whose residents come from all over Canada.

The blaze, which began May 1, has covered 1,930 square miles (5,000 square kilometers), including areas that are still burning and those where the fire has already been put out, along with nearly three square miles (eight square kilometers) in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

About 1,921 structures were destroyed in Fort McMurray, but 90 percent of the city remains intact, including essential infrastructure like the hospital, water treatment plant and the airport.

Officials are hopeful that cooler temperatures, higher humidity and rain forecast over the weekend will help stop the growth and spread of the fire.

Alberta senior wildlife manager Chad Morrison said more favorable weather conditions over the last day or two have enabled officials to put more firefighters in key points on the ground.

Morrison said the province plans to bring in 1,000 firefighters over the next two weeks, adding to 1,100 already on the ground.

Officials hope to have the remaining evacuees return home starting June 1.

Morrison said so far the blaze has burned the same amount of forest as all fires consumed in Alberta last year.

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Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.