Alberta on high alert for wildfire upsurge over scorching holiday weekend

Smoke rises from areas of wildfire EWF-035 near Shining Bank

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Firefighters in Alberta are on high alert for a surge in blazes over a long weekend in the oil-rich Canadian province, which is enduring throttled energy production, home evacuations and property damage after an intense start to the wildfire season.

Record-high temperatures and lack of rain this year have led to widespread fires burning nearly 830,000 hectares (2 million acres) of land in Alberta, about 10 times the size of the province's largest city, Calgary, according to Alberta Wildfire.

Ahead of the Victoria Day weekend, authorities have closed some parks and campgrounds in Alberta, and are urging residents to avoid activities that could enrage wildfires, to avoid straining firefighting resources.

The holiday weekend, when residents traditionally go camping or enjoy other outdoor activities in warmer weather, usually sees an uptick in seasonal wildfires, some of which are accidentally caused by people.

"We will all be on high alert this weekend," Christie Tucker, information unit manager at Alberta Wildfire, said on Friday. "We're positioned for sustained action on those wildfires currently on the landscape, we're prepared for new starts and we continue to bring in extra resources."

Over 2,800 firefighters from Canada and the United States were battling about 93 active wildfires on Friday, and more were expected to join on Saturday.

The wildfires have tested Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's disaster management skills ahead of a provincial election on May 29.

Some 275 houses, businesses and other properties had been damaged, while more than 10,000 people remained evacuated by Friday, according to Alberta government officials. Several oil and gas companies have had to sporadically stop or restart production on fluctuating fire-related risks.

Over the past couple of weeks, gas flowing from Canada to the U.S. has averaged just 7.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd), well below the 8.4-bcfd average exported since the start of 2023 and 9.0-bcfd in 2022, according to Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by William Mallard)