Canadian PM Trudeau visits Alberta as wildfires rage
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Alberta on Monday as raging wildfires prompted mass evacuations and reduced energy production in Canada's main oil-producing province, where meteorologists expect virtually no rain for 10 days or so.
In the provincial capital Edmonton, Trudeau received an update on firefighting efforts by Canadian soldiers sent to help provincial firefighting and recovery efforts since Thursday. More troops are expected to join in the coming days, according to the Alberta government.
The widespread blazes have marked an intense start to wildfire season in Alberta, forcing more than 30,000 people out of their homes at one point and shuttering at least 319,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), or 3.7% of national production.
The first 11 days of May have set seasonal heat records in several parts of Alberta, including Edmonton, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Lieutenant Colonel Ben Schmidt, one of the army officials who briefed Trudeau, told him about the regions most at risk and how a lack of rain in the forecast was "a huge challenge."
The forecast for Alberta shows a cold front sweeping through starting Tuesday evening that would bring gusty winds, a slight chance of a thunderstorm, but not much rain, said Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.
"We're very concerned about the possibility of dry lightning in an area that's already got a pretty high fire risk," Hoffman said. Hot and dry conditions are expected to ramp up again from Friday and are unlikely to ease at least until early next week.
By Monday afternoon, 90 fires were burning across Alberta, with 23 considered out of control and more than 17,400 evacuees. That compared with 74 fires and about 16,500 evacuees on Friday.
"I don't believe the worst is behind us," Alberta Wildfire agency official Christie Tucker said at a briefing.
Trudeau is due to leave for Seoul on Tuesday to meet South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, before moving on to Japan for a G7 summit starting Friday.
Benchmark Canadian heavy crude prices have risen to multi-month highs on concerns about the wildfires.
Late on Sunday, Paramount Resources said that due to the fires a third-party gas processing plant and some Paramount fields were shut, and it had curtailed 45,000 boepd.
Vermilion Energy said on Monday it had restored 60% of the 30,000 boepd that it previously shut in.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)