Cooler temperatures offer temporary reprieve for Alberta wildfires

Firefighters search for hotspots by gridline at the Deep Creek Wildfire Complex near Evansburg

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) - Wildfires in Canada's main oil-producing province Alberta eased on Tuesday thanks to cooler weather, but thousands of people remained under evacuation orders and officials warned temperatures were expected to rise in coming days.

The wildfires also forced oil and gas producers to shut in at least 319,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), or 3.7% of the country's production.

There were 88 wildfires burning across the province, of which 24 are classified as out of control. More than 24,000 people were under evacuation orders, down from 29,000 on Monday as residents of the town of Edson were allowed to return home.

"While there has been some rain in the last 24 hours we remind everyone the situation can change rapidly and there continues to be dry conditions in many parts of the province," Colin Blair, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, told reporters at a news conference.

Officials said firefighters had made progress in southern and central Alberta where cooler temperatures and higher humidity slowed the blazes. The fire danger remains high in many parts of northern Alberta and the province is forecast to have high temperatures return by the end of this week.

"We are not expecting the kind of winds we saw last week ... but certainly we are not taking it for granted," said Christie Tucker, information unit manager for Alberta Wildfire. "We're using all of the tools at our disposal to plan ahead."

In areas where the fire threat has lessened, oil and gas companies have been able to restart some production, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Spokesman Jay Averill said it remained difficult to quantify the overall industry impact.

Energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said it had been a "devastating" start to wildfire season.

"Production could return quickly, as soon as conditions are deemed safe," analysts wrote in a research note.

The wildfires contributed to a decline in Canadian gas exports to the United States, which helped push U.S. natural gas futures up about 1% to a fresh one-week high.

(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia, additional reporting by Arunima Kumar, Sourasis Bose, Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru, editing by Deepa Babington)