Fort McMurray wildfire: Blaze now 70% contained, Suncor to ramp up production

Fort McMurray residents help one another get back on their feet
WATCH ABOVE: Over the past week in Fort McMurray, we have witnessed time and again neighbours helping each other out. The community has really come together to make sure everyone can get back up up on their feet. Tom Vernon reports.

It is still out of control but a massive wildfire burning for over a month in northern Alberta is now 70 per cent contained, according to the Alberta government.

Late Monday afternoon, the province provided an update on the Fort McMurray wildfire in which it detailed the improved containment and also revealed the fire is still less than 582,000 hectares in size, including the parts of Saskatchewan where it is also burning.

A wildfire alert was also dropped in connection with the Fort McMurray blaze late Monday afternoon. However, the province said “extreme burning conditions” continue to exist in some areas of the fire.

On Sunday, officials said the fire was only 58 per cent contained.

Watch below: The last group of Edmonton firefighters to help with the wildfire have returned from Fort McMurray where they were helping out during the Wood Buffalo wildfire emergency.

Edmonton firefighters return home from Fort McMurray
Edmonton firefighters return home from Fort McMurray

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Homeowners get first chance to sift through destroyed properties

Update on firefighting efforts

On Monday, the province said 2,804 firefighters and support staff were now battling fires across the province with help from 99 helicopters and 236 pieces of heavy equipment.

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Officials said Alberta Forestry is now also providing assistance as crews battle a wildfire in Thorhild County.

READ MORE: Wildfire burns northeast of Edmonton, crews work on fire guard

The province said air, ash, soil and water testing in the Fort McMurray area is ongoing and the results of environmental testing are now available online.

Weather update

Temperatures were expected to reach 27 degrees Celsius Monday with 20 to 25 per cent humidity and winds blowing southeast at between 20 and 25 kilometres per hour, gusting to 40 kilometres per hour. There is a 30 per cent chance of showers overnight as well as a risk of thunderstorms.

Re-entry process

The province’s voluntary, phased re-entry plan wrapped up over the weekend and on Sunday, residents of destroyed or unliveable homes outside of restricted areas, were allowed supervised visits to their properties in hopes of salvaging some belongings.

Residents must book visits through the PULSE line by calling 780-743-7000. More information about the Property Visit Program is available online through the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

According to the province, nearly 3,800 vehicles travelled northbound on Highways 63 and 881 on Sunday in addition to the 9,619 vehicles that travelled northbound on the same highways Friday and Saturday.

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Visits to destroyed properties in the restricted areas of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways are scheduled to begin Wednesday.

READ MORE: Visits to 3 restricted Fort McMurray neighbourhoods to begin June 8

For residents returning to Fort McMurray, information centres can be accessed at the following locations:

Fort McMurray Composite High School, 9803 King Street (wildfire relief funding debit cards available at this centre)

Westwood High School/YMCA, 221 Tundra Drive (wildfire relief funding debit cards available at this centre)

Holy Trinity High School, 230 Powder Drive

Oil Sands Discovery Centre, 515 MacKenzie Boulevard

The information centre on MacKenzie Boulevard will be shut down as of Tuesday.

Provincial officials say although some grocery, hardware and convenience stores are open, evacuees re-entering Fort McMurray should still bring basic necessities with them like food, drinking water and prescriptions, and to bring enough to last up to 14 days.

For now, residents are also being asked to help ensure the community’s water infrastructure is not overwhelmed by keeping showers, laundry and vehicle washing to a minimum.

On Sunday, officials said they continue to monitor reports of possible price gouging in the the Fort McMurray area. Service Alberta is deploying a consumer investigation team to look into reports of possible scams and price gouging for renovations, accommodations, home inspections etc.

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The Alberta Emergency Management Agency has been asked by local authorities to set fixed prices for hotels and rental properties at April 30 rates. Residents concerned about price gouging are asked to contact the municipality’s PULSE information line at 1-780-743-7000.

Telephone town halls have been scheduled for Monday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 8. They will run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Evacuees who have registered their cellphone numbers and emergency contact numbers with the Red Cross will be phoned before 7 p.m. on the evening of the call.

Oil production update

On Monday, Suncor said it was ramping up oil production and it expects all of its operations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to be producing at normal levels by the end of June.

The wildfire significantly stalled oil production, and at one point, forced the evacuation of oilsands work camps.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire’s return stalls Alberta oilsands recovery

While other facilities are expected to take longer, the Calgary-based energy firm said it expects base plant operations to return to pre-fire production rates within a week.

Suncor said there had been no damage to its assets as a result of the fires and future potential threats are being addressed with “enhanced fire mitigation work.”

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“Throughout this unprecedented situation, the community has demonstrated incredible resilience, patience and commitment to each other and the industry,” Steve Williams, Suncor president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “As a result of working with government and the region we safely returned thousands of people and restarted our operations in a safe manner. I’m grateful to our employees, the first responders and all those who are working so hard to prepare the community to welcome back residents.”

Suncor said the wildfire’s impact on refinery feedstock along with a brief, unplanned outage at one unit of its Edmonton refinery, production of gasoline and diesel has been reduced. The company said the unit was expected to be back in service by the end of the week and that it is “working to minimize the supply disruptions to its retail and wholesale customers.”

Meanwhile, Syncrude anticipates a return to production beginning in late June with a full ramp-up of production by mid-July.