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Fires Crimp Alberta Oil Patch Activity

About 200,000 b/d of northern Alberta oil production remained temporarily halted Thursday as tinder-dry forests continue to fuel wildfires ignited by lightning.

No industry facilities have been damaged. No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported. Production personnel were evacuated and sites were shut down over the weekend as precautionary measures when blazes threatened to block access roads.

As the largest field operators in the danger zone, Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. are the companies most affected. The production losses are primarily from northeastern oilsands and heavy oil plants. Deliveries to markets continue from storage sites.

A warm spring, early thaw of winter snow cover and dry weather since left the woods vulnerable to ignition by electrical storms that can be frequent in the northern half of Texas-sized Alberta.

So far this year, the provincial government reports that fires have blackened 33,311 hectares (333 square kilometers, 133 square miles) of forest. Since April 1 alone, 723 blazes have burned 29,660 hectares (296 square kilometers, 118 square miles).

Between midday Wednesday and midday Thursday, 33 new fires broke out. The count of blazes currently burning was 63, including 13 that remained out of control.

Crews of 660 firefighters, supported by 75 helicopters, were tackling the blazes. A reserve force of 1,000 firefighters and 108 aircraft was standing by in case the emergency spread. A second backup line of 116 firefighters from Quebec and Ontario was also ready to spring into action.

Evacuation orders were lifted from towns and villages that were potentially in the path of blazes last weekend. But an Alberta-wide ban against camp, cooking or other human-use fires remained in effect.

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