Alberta town burns, wildfires shut oil facilities
Calgary: Wildfires whipped by high winds destroyed more than a third of a sizable town in northern Alberta and forced oil companies in Canada's largest energy-producing province to shut off tens of thousands of barrels of output on Monday.
Dozens of forest fires flared up across the province during a dry, gusty weekend, forcing the evacuation of several communities, including Slave Lake, a town of 10,000 people in northern Alberta known as a center for oil, gas and forestry.
Numerous homes and some public buildings had been razed in Slave Lake, Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said.
She spoke to reporters from a command center in the town, about 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the provincial capital, Edmonton. It was deserted save for emergency personnel.
"You feel the intense heat, the sharp smell of smoke ... you see some areas still smoking and our fire-fighting crews are trying to contain any spot fires," Pillay-Kinnee said.
Two blazes, driven by winds gusting to 100 km per hour (60 miles per hour), converged on Slave Lake on Sunday. Complicating the situation on Monday were winds up to 50 km per hour (30 mph) in some regions as well as dry conditions.
"We're expecting another very active fire day," Alberta information officer Rob Harris said. "These conditions make it incredibly difficult for firefighters to contain fires."
Wildfires forced oil companies to shut off production and, in some cases, evacuate workers.
Penn West Petroleum Ltd shut 25,000-30,000 barrels a day of heavy oil production from north-central Alberta operations, Chief Executive Bill Andrew said. All the company's employees are safe, although some have lost homes, he said.
Cenovus Energy Inc said it was ready to halt operations at its 22,000 barrel a day Pelican Lake heavy oil field, 300 km (186 miles) north of Edmonton.
"Our facilities aren't in jeopardy from the fires, but right now the Rainbow Pipeline is shut down," spokeswoman Rhona DelFrari said. Cenovus has enough storage capacity to keep pumping crude until Tuesday, she said.