EDMONTON/LAC LA BICHE, Alberta(Reuters) - Oil sands companies around the Canadian energy center of Fort McMurray began to restart their operations on Tuesday after an out-of-control wildfire forced a week-long shutdown, and the province's top official said she expected production to ramp up over the coming weeks.
The fire continued to grow on Tuesday, but it has moved far enough away from the oil sands' sites to allow companies to begin resuming production.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc became the first company to resume its operation in the center of Canada's oil sands region. Enbridge Inc began inspecting its facilities and prepared to restart operations shuttered during the blaze.
"While thousands of lives will never be the same, we can take small steps to getting back the rhythm of northeast Alberta," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters after meeting with executives from companies including Suncor Energy Inc, ConocoPhillips Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
"For many in Fort McMurray, that means rolling up the sleeves, and returning to work doing what they love, which is working in the energy sector," she said in Edmonton.
The meeting came a day after Notley led an inspection tour of Fort McMurray, which found that the town was less damaged than initially feared with about 90 percent of its buildings surviving the blaze.
But its 88,000 residents, who were hurriedly evacuated last week as flames attacked the town, will not be able to return for weeks from temporary accommodation in the provincial capital Edmonton, 380 km (235 miles) south, and elsewhere.
"These are difficult circumstances," said Al Monaco, Enbridge CEO, in a statement. "We have a well-trained and experienced team that has developed a detailed logistical plan to enable the safe restart of our pipelines and terminals."