Work camps north of Fort McMurray evacuated due to growing wildfire

(Non-essential workers are leaving oil camps north of Fort McMurray while others are staying to fight fires. Photo Courtesy: John Marasse)

The Canadian Press
Fort McMurray, ALTA. — A precautionary evacuation is clearing out employees at work camps north of Fort McMurray due to the threat of a quickly spreading wildfire.

Non-essential personnel are leaving while others are staying to conduct work on the plant and engage in firefighting.

There are about 4,000 workers at 12 camps in the area, including many at Suncor and Syncrude.

Officials say another 500 to 600 people in four small camps along Aostra Road are under a mandatory evacuation.

Scott Long of the Alberta Management Agency says there is no panic and the evacuations are being done in an orderly manner.

Officials say thick smoke is also posing a hazard.

The Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo says the fire is moving 30 to 40 metres per minute and is expected to burn six kilometres in two hours.

“This controlled, precautionary evacuation is an example why it is note safe to be in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo at this time,” the municipality said late Monday afternoon in a news release.

Syncrude Canada tweeted that buses are transporting workers to a safe location as part of its emergency plan.

Sneh Seetal, a spokesman for Suncor Energy, called it a “precautionary measure.”

“The facilities are not at risk,” she said. “However, we felt it was important to take these steps in the interest of putting people first.”

Eric Kraus, a spokesman for Clean Harbours, which runs the Ruth Lake camp, also called the move “precautionary.”

“The fire we believe is about 35 kilometres away,” he said. “There is a significant amount of smoke.”

The entire population of Fort McMurray, more than 80,000 residents, are now entering their third week away from home. Many of the work camps were used to house evacuated residents who fled north when fire broke through into the city the afternoon of May 3.

Those residents were taken to points south, including Edmonton and Calgary, several days ago and workers were moved back in to begin ramping up oilsands production again.

About 2,400 structures were destroyed in Fort McMurray, but essential infrastructure, including the hospital, water treatment plant and the airport, remain intact.

Crews continued to battle hot spots on the edge of the city Monday while the first still raged out of control deeper in the forest. Hot, dry conditions were not helping firefighters.

Earlier Monday, officials warned the air quality in the Fort McMurray area was dangerously poor.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the air quality health index is normally one to 10, with 10 being the worst, but the reading this morning was at 38.

Notley said the conditions were hampering efforts to get residents back to their homes.

“Alberta Health Services has recommended that members of the public who had been previously arranging to return to the area under various requests not return until those conditions improve,” Notley said. “This is something that could potentially delay recovery work and a return to the community.”

Karen Grimsrud, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said they expect the air quality readings to remain in the extreme range for the next couple of days.

She said workers in the area should be wearing respirators.



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