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Evacuations leave Fort McMurray residents and oil operations in limbo

Evacuees, fire officials and oilsands operations around Fort McMurray are closely watching as wildfires threaten their properties.

At the Calgary International Airport on Wednesday, a Fort McMurray family paced around the luggage area, looking to retrieve their baggage from a flight they were forced to leave before takeoff.

It’s the second time they’ve done so in the last two days.

They were on their return from a dream vacation with their five-year-old daughter. When they landed in North America on Tuesday, they learned parts of their community were being evacuated.

“Clearly we are not prepared for that sort of an evacuation. All my important stuff is home. I didn’t carry all my documents with me so I have the urge to go back. But as everybody’s saying — our insurance company and everyone else — it’s not safe,” said Nabahat Sana.

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She said friends had urged her not to fly home on Tuesday, but she was compelled to try again on Wednesday. Her insurance company called her while she was on the plane.

“They say, ‘As per our information, you’re not supposed to go back.’ So if we go back, it will be on us,” said Sana.

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They still have memories of the gridlock as they fled fast-moving fires that destroyed part of the community in 2016. And she wants to spare her daughter the possibility of similar trauma.

“It just gives you more anxiety because we don’t want to be stranded on the roads for hours and hours,” said Sana.

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Alberta’s forestry minister ensures firefighter retention, preparedness better than 2023 amid wildfire season

Their newly-built home is in a community that burned to the ground in 2016.

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For others working in the area, the return home is a welcomed reprieve. But it’s still unclear if and when they’ll be able to return to their job sites.

“Was wondering if I’d get a flight home actually,” said oilsands worker Anthony Hofer. “Driving into the airport today it was very hazy, smoky – looked like a ghost town pretty much already.”

Imperial Oil said as a precaution, it has reduced staffing to essential levels at its Kearl operation.

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As part of a statement, Canadian Natural Resources Limited said: “on-site fire department at our oilsands mining operations are staffed with firefighters and equipment to support firefighting efforts, including supporting provincial and local officials in helping to fight fires, if requested.”

“The firefighters are there,” said Dave Morabito, who works at a small oil mining operation in the area. “They are same as in 2016, they’re building walls and kind of have to tear down some trees to give us a barrier to protect us and they’re coming in for water ponds with their helicopters.”

For the latest information on which areas in Alberta are under an evacuation alert or order due to a wildfire, visit the Alberta Emergency Alert website.

For the latest information on the wildfire status and danger across the province, visit the Alberta Wildfire website.

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The latest information on fire advisories, restrictions and bans across the province can be found on the Alberta fire bans website.

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