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Oilfield fire that caused toxic smoke alert under investigation

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The fire that prompted an alert on Tuesday asking residents in east-central Alberta to seek shelter to avoid breathing toxic smoke is under investigation.

Just after 5:15 p.m., the County of Minburn asked people to head indoors and close windows and doors due to toxic smoke being produced by a crude-oil fire involving four tanks near Mannville.

The County of Minburn Fire Department, with the help of other fire crews from the area, evacuated the lease site.

"The fire departments engaged in defensive cooling of the unaffected oil tanks while awaiting the private contractor’s arrival," the county said in a release. "Once they arrived, private water haulers were sourced to assist in the water shuttle and a suppression plan was made and carried out."

The fire was extinguished around 9 p.m., about two hours after the alert was cancelled.

Area residents said the wind on Wednesday blew the smoke away from populated areas.

"It was like any oil fire. It was black and the wind was blowing exactly opposite yesterday, it was going towards the southeast," James Hinton told CTV News Edmonton.

"We never ever had any problems with the smoke. There's nobody that lives that way, not for miles and miles. It's just coulee land, so we never were worried, never stressed out at all."

Hinton said this time of year, the risk of extensive damage from fire around the affected site was relatively low.

"If it was harvest time, if these crops were still standing, ripe like in the middle of September, that would have been a concern because it could have started all these fields on fire, but at this time of year, this is when we burn brush, you know, when you're cleaning the land up ... this is when you burn because it's safe to do so.," he said.

Jared Bauer said he didn't smell the fire, which was visible for a great distance,

"The wind was low that day," Bauer said.

"It was just very black in the sky. Toward the end of the day, the south side was just black, but air quality, I didn't smell or taste any bad smoke. I didn't drive out there. (The smoke was) very dark, black, still didn't smell anything, more so just up in the sky." 

The cause is under investigation and the Alberta Energy Regulator is overseeing cleaning efforts.

"The AER's priority during an incident is to ensure companies take effective and immediate action to protect public safety and the environment," it said to CTV News Edmonton.

"Our role is to monitor and oversee the company’s response, so that impacts to the public, property, wildlife and the environment are understood and mitigated, while ensuring all public safety and environmental requirements are met."

Mannville is located 155 kilometres east of Edmonton.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nav Sangha, Brandon Lynch and Craig Ellingson

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