Rain helps stall wildfire near Canadian oil city

By Jesse Winter

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (Reuters) - Overnight rain helped firefighters stall a large wildfire near the Canadian oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and wet weather on Thursday was expected to further aid containment efforts, local officials said.

The region received rain for a few hours through the night and the forecast for the next few days is for more precipitation, officials for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, said at a briefing.

"This type of weather provides a good window for firefighters to make progress," wildfire information officer Josee St-Onge said.

The fire stayed about 5.5 km (3.4 miles) from the landfill on the city's southern outskirts where crews are building a containment line.

It is the only one out of 44 wildfires burning in Alberta deemed out of control, and St-Onge warned against complacency due to the rain, saying more work was needed to contain the blaze.

Fort McMurray is the hub for most of Canada's oil output. A huge wildfire in 2016 forced the evacuation of 90,000 residents, burned down 2,400 buildings and idled more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of production.

A smaller, separate wildfire that had ignited to the city's north was also being held and not creeping closer, officials said.

There have been no reports of fire-related disruption to Alberta oil and gas production, though research firm Rystad Energy estimated that more than 2.1 million bpd of marketable oil sands output - or 2.6% of total crude oil and lease condensate supply - could be at risk if conditions materially worsen.

The region has rain forecast every day until Monday, according to Environment Canada, though there is also a risk of thunderstorms and lightning that can ignite new fires.

Some 6,600 people in four suburbs closest to the blaze were told to evacuate on Tuesday. Residents who have left will not be able to return until May 21 at the earliest.

(This story has been refiled to clarify that residents will not be able to return until at least May 21, in paragraph 10)

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, Editing by Franklin Paul, Rod Nickel and Sandra Maler)