Heavy smoke around Fort McMurray forces evacuees to move again

Smoke has become so heavy in and around Fort McMurray that work camps north of the city are being evacuated.

Police working inside the city report visibility is poor and expected to get worse later today

Workers say conditions have worsened since this photo was taken at 6 a.m. MT at the CNRL Horizon site north of Fort McMurray. (Supplied)

Smoke has become so heavy in and around Fort McMurray that work camps north of the city have evacuated.

Premier Rachel Notley said on Sunday that all Fort McMurray evacuees have left the northern oilsands camps. 

She added that Suncor, Husky, Esso, CNRL and Shell facilities have all evacuated employees from their sites, but many are still in operation and there will be more updates in the coming days. 

On Saturday night, the massive wildfire nicknamed "the beast" forced a work camp north of Fort McMurray housing first responders to evacuate.

"This is an orderly and precautionary evacuation," Noralta, the company that runs the camp, said in a press release, adding that people in the area are "not in imminent danger." The announcement came at 6:30 p.m.

Earlier in the day authorities informed those staying at the camp they should be prepared to evacuate on two hours' notice. 

Non-essential staff are currently were sent south of Fort McMurray to safe sites on buses. Some workers will be sent to Grey Wolf, another camp north of Fort McMurray. 

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has told the Suncor BASEPLANT and Noralta Lodge to be prepared for an evacuation. (CBC news)

Police working inside the city report visibility is poor and expected to get worse later today and officers directing traffic on Highway 63 are wearing ventilators.

"Visibility at time is less than 30 feet," RCMP Inspector Kevin Kunetzki told reporters. "I can even tell you personally, driving to my accommodations last night, [I was] barely able to see in front of the car."

Poor air quality has forced people out of the camps of Firebag Village, McClelland Lake Lodge, Pebble Beach Lodge and Henday Lodge.

Syncrude started a precautionary evacuation in the morning  at 5 a.m.. 

Syncrude said Saturday it has shut down operations and will remove all workers from both the Aurora and Mildred Lake mines and its upgrading complex at Mildred Lake. 

Athabasca and Beaver River Lodge are "effectively evacuated," with only a few staff remaining on site, said Chris Gardner, a spokesman for Civeo.

Noralta Lodge, Wapasu Creek Lodge and Grey Wolf Lodge have evacuated everyone except staff and emergency workers.

People at Oil Sands Lodge have not been evacuated.

Clean Harbors emergency response manager Mark Reynolds said the company is monitoring air quality. But smoke has become so thick, it wafts into the building when anyone opens the door. The company is also monitoring Ruth Lake Lodge and Joslyn Creek.

A Shell spokesperson said smoke has made it difficult to move people out of its Albian Village.

CNRL continues operations

The CNRL Horizon site has told staff to continue to work. CNRL said it is monitoring air quality and has been told by Alberta Health Services there is currently no need for a mandatory evacuation.
Horizon site camp at 5:30 a.m. (supplied)

But contract workers at the site have told CBC News they are concerned for their safety and some are refusing to go back to work. 

One worker said the smoke was so heavy his eyes would begin to tear up within minutes of stepping outside. 

But CNRL in a statement said the smoke poses no safety risk to workers. Conditions improved this morning and are returning to "sunny and dry conditions" the company said. 

On Saturday afternoon, CNRL sent CBC a statement adding, "We are working hard to make travel arrangements for anyone who would like to leave our site with no repercussions from Canadian Natural for requesting to do so".


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