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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley got her first direct look at the devastation in Fort McMurray on Monday after cold temperatures and rain stabilized a massive wildfire to a point where officials could begin planning to get evacuated residents back. (Ma
AP

Raging wildfires paralyzing a wide swath of Western Canada virtually slammed the brakes on oil production and staggered a region already reeling from the impact of low crude prices.

Production from oil sands mines fell by almost 1 million barrels per day — more than a third of oil-rich Canada’s normal output — since the fires threatened neighborhoods and facilities more than a week ago.

The largest culprit near Fort McMurray forced almost 90,000 evacuees out of their homes and out of work. The government is developing a plan for their return, but that is expected to take weeks.

“While everyone’s focus continues to be on the safety of people, #ymmfire is having an impact on the jobs of many Albertans & the economy,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley tweeted.

Canadian Red Cross chief executive Conrad Sauve said Wednesday that damages from the fires will total billions of dollars. Officials are working to getting residents back on their feet, announcing plans Wednesday to pay more than $1,400 to each adult evacuee, with another $600-plus for each dependent child.

The Fort McMurray flames burned 2,400 homes and businesses in the town along with 900 square miles of vast Canadian wilderness. Shell Canada and Suncor Energy recently restarted limited oil production, and the province’s primary industry could be fully operational within weeks once the fire is fully controlled.

“We think we got this thing beat,” Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen said. “We’re still worried about our communities in the south a little bit, but we’ll get it … Be patient.”

Canada is home to the third-largest oil reserves in the world behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen, an oil too thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated. Notley said the mines, representing a sizable segment of Canada’s oil riches, aren’t immediately threatened by the fires.

Alberta, the fourth-most populated of Canada’s 13 provinces, experienced serious issues before the fires. Falling oil prices drove layoffs — crude prices are about half of what they were less than two years ago, according to Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers statistics.

The Royal Bank of Canada donated $2 million to support families and communities affected by the wildfires and the recent economic downturn in Alberta. The bank also offered “special financial considerations and assistance,” including deferrals on loan payments, to those affected by the blazes.

Cool temperatures and rain helped slow the fire’s advance in recent days. And shifting winds moved the flames farther east, putting Fort McMurray out of harm’s way. Notley said about 85% of the town’s structures survived the blaze. Suncor CEO Steve Williams said no layoffs are planned, and his workers should not see interruptions in pay.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit Fort McMurray on Friday. Earlier this week, he thanked firefighters and first responders for the “extraordinary work through these terrible blazes” and Canadians for donating to the cause of the evacuees.

The Alberta Energy Regulator, which oversees oil production for the province, created a team to assist in an environmentally responsible resumption of operations. “We will be making sure that there are no shortcuts,” said agency spokesman Ryan Bartlett.