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Alberta blaze nears Enbridge oil-sands terminal as flames spread

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Wildfires raging across northern Alberta for more than two weeks have come to within a kilometre of an Enbridge Inc oil-sands transportation terminal as warm weather and wind spread the flames.

[CALGARY] Wildfires raging across northern Alberta for more than two weeks have come to within a kilometre of an Enbridge Inc oil-sands transportation terminal as warm weather and wind spread the flames.

Fire crews are "working hard" with bulldozers to keep the blaze from the Cheecham Terminal, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a news conference Monday.

Winds are now expected to be favorable in helping push the fire away from the facility, where crude is stored and shipped out from the Athabasca region about 75 kilometres (47 miles) southeast of the Fort McMurray oil-sands hub. Enbridge mainlines that carry crude from the region are still operating, Graham White, an Enbridge spokesman, said by e-mail.

"We have had really good success holding things there over the weekend," Chad Morrison, an Alberta wildfire official, said at the news conference. "We hope to secure that site a little more and hope to have good luck there by the end of the day."

The wildfires burned down entire neighborhoods in Fort McMurray, the gateway to the world's third-largest crude reserves, forcing more than 80,000 people out of their homes and prompting the shutdown of about 1 million barrels a day of production.

The blazes have grown to about 2,840 square kilometres (1,100 square miles), almost the size of Rhode Island, from 2,410 on Friday as 40 kilometre-an-hour (25 mile-an-hour) winds and hot weather cause them to spread to the north-east, south and west, Barry Shellian, an Alberta Forestry spokesman, said by phone.

Similar conditions, plus the possible threat of lightening starting new fires, are forecast for Monday, he said.

Oil-sands companies including Suncor Energy Inc and Syncrude Canada Ltd have been preparing to resume operations over the days and weeks ahead after the fire moved away from mines and upgraders north of Fort McMurray.

Statoil ASA has resumed operations at its Leismer oil-sands facility, which is located way south of the area swept by the fires but lacked diluent supplies from up north. Suncor has put its Firebag oil-sands site back to work, according to two people with knowledge of operations.

Enbridge said in a May 13 update on its website that the Cheecham Terminal was staffed and conduits that connect to it, including lines 18 and 19, were put into service. The terminal, which Enbridge operates with a 50 per cent stake, wasn't damaged, according to the update.

There are 1,919 firefighters, 161 helicopters, 377 pieces of heavy equipment and 29 air tankers currently battling the fires.

BLOOMBERG