SA firefighters gear up for first deployment in Canada

The 301 firefighters are now resting before taking on the raging fires in Fort McMurray.

FILE: Flames rise off Highway 63 outside Fort McMurray, where raging forest fires have forced more than 88,000 from their homes. Pictures: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - South African firefighters who have been assigned to battle a blaze in Canada are preparing for their first deployment on the ground this afternoon.

The 301 firefighters are now resting before taking on the raging fires in Fort McMurray in 14 different teams.

Thousands of evacuees have now returned to the town after they had to leave all their belongings and flee the wildfire-ravaged city last month.

Working on Fire's Linton Rensburg says the South African firefighters are prepared for the big day.

"It's a very important day for them, a day we have been prepared for since April. Our firefighters are certainly looking forward to getting out today."

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Meanwhile, Suncor Energy Inc's gas stations across Canada's western provinces were grappling with fuel shortages because of wildfire-triggered production cuts along with an unplanned unit outage at the company's Edmonton refinery, a representative said on Wednesday.

Suncor's sapped Petro-Canada outlets stretched from interior British Columbia, through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, company spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said by phone.

"We are working to minimise the impact on our customers as much as possible," Seetal said. "Our ability to produce gasoline is substantially reduced."

The shortage comes the same day that thousands of evacuees from the wildfire traveled by car back to Fort McMurray, where they face a massive cleanup and uncertainty over their safety.

Suncor was buying third-party products to bolster its own supplies and shipping gas to locations by rail and truck. Its three stations in Fort McMurray, more than four hours' drive north of Edmonton, had received fuel, Seetal said.

Additional reporting by Reuters.