Fort McMurray Wildfire: Oil Industry Restarting but City to Remain Closed for Weeks

May 10, 2016 7:19 pm Last Updated: May 10, 2016 7:19 pm

See full coverage of the Fort McMurray wildfires here

While the oil industry around Fort McMurray is restarting production after massive wildfires in the region, it will take weeks before the city is safe for people to return.

Last week, 88,000 people were hastily evacuated from Fort McMurray and surrounding areas in Alberta’s province driven by oil sands mining operations.

The raging wildfires hit the city while people were scrambling to get out, most without anything but the shirts on their backs. 

Two people died in a car accident while evacuating, but no one has died directly due to the fire.

The fires have continued to grow, but thanks to much-lauded efforts of hundreds of firefighters, almost 90 percent of the city was saved, Rachel Notley, the province’s premier, stated in a May 10, 5 p.m., update on her Facebook page.

Two fires in the Fort McMurray area have joined, covering about 229,000 hectares (close to 900 square miles) as of 11:30 a.m. on May 10, according to Alberta province’s official website.

In the city, some 2,400 structures were lost to “The Beast” as the fire was dubbed. 

The fires shut down majority of the large oil industry in the region. The loss of production was about a million barrels a day, according to Steve Williams, president and CEO of Suncor Energy Inc., one of the largest oil sands miners in the region.

Canada's Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to the media along with Suncor President and CEO Steve Williams, right, and President and CEO Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Tim McMillan, left, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Canada, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada’s Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to the media along with Suncor President and CEO Steve Williams, right, and President and CEO Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Tim McMillan, left, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Canada, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press via AP)

But some companies are already restarting production and more will follow in the next 24 to 48 hours, Williams said during a May 10 press conference with Notley and other energy industry representatives streamed live through the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau’s YouTube channel.

Most of the industry is based north of the city, where the main impact was smoke damage, rather than fire. The operations south of the city that were hit by the fire will take weeks, or even longer to get back online.

Pipelines are below ground and haven’t been significantly damaged, Williams said.

He also said, in general, companies are not planning any layoffs.

The situation is quite different for the city. 

Notley warned in her update people should not try to return yet.

“There are smoldering hotspots everywhere, and active fire suppression is continuing,” she wrote in her Facebook update. “There are hazardous material and broken power lines.”

Authorities still need to assess damage, restore services like gas, water, waste disposal, and healthcare, and also plan for transportation, security, food, and supplies.

“I’m advised we will be able to provide a schedule for return within two weeks,” Notley wrote.

Notley praised the energy companies for helping with the evacuation and temporary housing in a press release. Williams said at the press conference the industry will help rebuild the city.

“This is our community. This is where we live,” he said. “We’ve been here for the last 50 years. We plan to there for the next 50.”

See full coverage of the Fort McMurray wildfires here