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Suncor's Firebag site. Image courtesy of Suncor.

Suncor said Sunday that it has begun restarting its oil sands operations near Fort McMurray, although wildfires in the region continue to burn.

The Alberta-based company has begun the safe and staged restart of its operations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) with initial production from its Firebag in situ facility early last week.

Suncor said that start-up activities are well underway at Base Plant and the MacKay River in situ facility.

Suncor expects initial production by the end of this week, subject to conditions in the region.

Suncor has moved over 4,000 employees and contractors back into the region, including Fort Hills workers.

The company anticipates that it will move about 3,500 additional people to support its return to operations over the coming week.

Suncor said there has been no damage to its assets and all sites have enhanced fire mitigation and protection.

Cooler weather and several days of precipitation have helped improve conditions in the region.

Critical third-party pipeline and power infrastructure required to support the start-up have been restored.

Services and accommodations for employees and contractors have been established following approval for occupation of Suncor’s lodges from Alberta Health Services on May 27.

Construction activities at Suncor’s Fort Hills mine have continued to ramp up.

Suncor expects its Fort Hills workforce will return to its full complement this week.

Syncrude is also in the process of planning its return to operations, Suncor said.

Suncor added that it will continue to work closely with the province, region and industry to monitor and manage the situation including fire risk, air quality and the return to the RMWB community.

A mandatory evacuation order for oil sands camps in Fort McMurray was lifted last Monday.

The RMWB said on Sunday that access to the Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways will be restricted until further notice.

Government officials said air, soil, and ash testing of the areas confirmed the presence of chemicals that pose risks to residents if they are exposed to them.

All residents located in the re-entry Zone 4b communities of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways will not permitted to access their homes on the scheduled re-entry date of June 4.

As of Sunday morning, there were 14 active wildfires in Alberta, with one Fort McMurray still being out of control.

The wildfires now cover an estimated 579,946 hectares, including hectares on the Saskatchewan side.

Work is still on track to begin voluntary phased re-entry of residents on June 1.