Wildfire forces evacuation at Rainbow pipeline spill site

Wildfire forces evacuation at Rainbow pipeline spill site

15 May 2011

published by www.vancouversun.com

Canada — Cleanup efforts at the Rainbow pipeline oil spill site were suspended after a 15,000-hectare wildfire aided by heavy winds approached the area Sunday.

The evacuation order was issued at 11 a.m. Sunday, says a news release from Plains Midstream Canada.

The company said it was instructed to evacuate all of its on-site staff. Cleanup is expected to resume once the evacuation order is lifted and the area is deemed safe, the release says.

An update posted to the company’s website says a brush fire was reported just 10 kilometres away from the spill site on Saturday. It’s not clear whether that was a separate fire from the one that encroached on the spill site on Sunday.

The wildfire broke out in the Utikuma area around 1:45 p.m. Saturday and within 24 hours had spread northwest to cover about 15,000 hectares, said Sustainable Resource Development spokeswoman Crystal Burrows.

The Rainbow pipeline normally moves 187,000 barrels of crude oil a day, but has been shut down for more than two weeks after a breach in the pipe spilled at least 28,000 barrels of crude oil into a marsh 30 kilometres from the small First Nations community of Little Buffalo.

The spill was the largest in Alberta in three decades, and one of the biggest in the province’s history.

Plains Midstream Canada, the Canadian arm of the company that owns the pipeline, has said the spill was caused by poorly compacted soil under the pipeline and a badly fitted weld.

About 37 per cent of the oil has been recovered from the spill, says the latest update from the company.

The fire threatening the spill site is about one kilometre wide and 17 kilometres long.

“The reason it’s spreading long and narrow is because of the wind,” Burrows said.

Winds in the area were gusting at about 80 kilometres per hour, and weren’t expected to subside, she added.

The fire was spreading at a rate of about one kilometre per hour and was rapidly approaching nearby hamlets and the oil spill site.

“It’s very gusty winds and that’s causing this fire to spread so rapidly,” she said. “It could be in their communities by Monday if the winds keep up.”

The communities of Marten River and Little Buffalo were asked to voluntarily evacuate Sunday afternoon, Burrows said, mainly because of heavy smoke blowing into the areas.

Crews work to clean up at Rainbow Pipeline’s oil spill, the worst Alberta oil spill in 35 years, dumping 28, 000 barrels of oil into a wetland area at Evi, Alberta which is near Little Buffalo, Alberta, Canada.

Workers dressed in white protective coveralls move through the bush (top of picture) at the site of a major oil spill near the community of Little Buffalo, Alberta Thursday, May 5, 2011. Four and a half million litres of oil spilled from the Rainbow pipeline Friday, April 29, 2011, covering a right-of-way almost a kilometre long, settling in wetlands. Oil can be seen in the water at the bottom of the picture. (photograph by Chris Schwarz/Edmonton Journal).

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