Canada — Wildfires burning north of Fort McMurray have forced a partial evacuation of an oilsands site.
Shell has evacuated all non-essential workers from its Albian Sands site located 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
The potential for strong winds to blow heavy smoke from the Richardson back country fire is behind the move to evacuate the workers.
“It drives the fire its oxygen feeding into the fire and it can push those flames very fast,” said Duncan MacDonnell with Sustainable Resource Development.
Shell stresses that its operations are not affected by the move to evacuate non-essential staff.
This is the latest evacuation in the region. Some CNRL employees were forced from a site last month and Imperial Oil’s Kearl Oilsands plant has been notified the smoke situation could get worse for workers.
Shell officials say there is concern for health and well being of the workers having to breathe in the heavier smoke.
Four separate fires have now burned up more than 300,000 hectares of land north of Fort McMurray.
“Got back from Slave Lake and a couple days later we were requested to have the mobile air monitoring lab up in Fort McKay,” said Tom Bourque, who monitors air quality for the province.
He just returned from the Fort McKay area and says changing winds have made the situation there much worse.
“Yesterday I think it was about four in the afternoon the wind changed directions and the smoke in Fort McKay was heavy.”
Currently, 400 firefighters are on the ground. Dozens of choppers and waterbombers are in the air, with a big addition coming Friday night.
The Martin Mars waterbomber, which is the largest in the world, is now enroute to the fire zone after fighting a blaze in northern Mexico.
“We’re happy to have the plane here, it just reinforces our commitment to protect this community and get the most and the best equipment we can fighting this fire,” said MacDonnell.