Canadian Manufacturing

655-unit oilsands work camp near Fort McMurray destroyed by wildfire

The Horizon North-owned Blacksand Executive Lodge was levelled; Meanwhile, Syncrude CEO Mark Ward vowed there would be no layoffs because of the fire and everyone would continue being paid



Firebag steam generators at Suncor's in situ site. The company is developing cleantech alternatives to minimize water usage and greenhosue gas emissions while generating steam. PHOTO: Suncor

Suncor’s Firebag in situ site is on hot standby with minimal staffing. PHOTO: Suncor

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta.—There has been a dramatic increase in the size of a northern Alberta wildfire that has already destroyed hundreds of structures in Fort McMurray and is now licking close to the boundary with Saskatchewan.

An overnight report from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development says the blaze has now covered more than 4,200 square kilometres.

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley confirmed the blaze destroyed a 655-unit work camp and was threatening two others.

Rod Graham, president of Horizon North, which owns the destroyed Blacksand Executive Lodge, said the facility was fully insured and could be rebuilt in about six months.

By Tuesday evening, one of the other threatened accommodation camps, Noralta Lodge, was reporting on Twitter that the fire was being held off the village site and there was no structural damage, but the facility was still considered at risk.

The tweet said crews were to remain overnight to keep the fire under control.

The evacuation zone, stretching about 50 kilometres north of Fort McMurray to just south of Fort MacKay, included Syncrude and Suncor facilities, along with several smaller operations.

Mark Little, executive vice-president of Suncor, issued a tweet to employees late Tuesday night assuring them that the fire was southwest of the facility “and we have protection strategies in place to safeguard our assets.”

“What a crazy time it’s been,” he told them. “I know many of you are in difficult circumstances given your temporary accommodations and in some cases, dealing with a loss of your personal property. Hang in there—we will get through this.”

He said emergency response teams were still on site at the company’s MacKay River, East Tank Farm and base plant facilities, while its Firebag location was on “hot standby with minimal staffing.” He said a strategy was in place to evacuate those people as necessary.

Syncrude CEO Mark Ward, meanwhile, held a meeting with several hundred employees in Edmonton and assured them there would be no layoffs because of the fire situation, and everyone would continue being paid.

Suncor also told workers they would receive their normal pay on May 12, and their base salary on May 26.

It was distressing deja vu for many workers who had fled the fire before and returned in recent days to get production running again.

Jeff George, a 51-year-old Suncor worker, was moved to another camp further north. He can’t wait for life to get back to normal, he said, but is resigned to waiting it out in comfort with great food and air conditioning, pool tables and dart boards.

Planes were available to evacuate workers again if necessary, he added.

“It’s bad but it’s not as bad for us as I think people think,” said George. “They’re keeping everybody out of the way and safe … We’ve just got to be patient and hopefully we’ll get out of here soon.”

Saskatchewan authorities say the fire is now about five kilometres or less from the provincial boundary and will likely keep burning that way, although the nearest community is about 40 kilometres away.

The weather in the region remains dry and windy, but Environment Canada is forecasting four days of rain.

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