Fort McMurray's fire rages, pushing oil up but loonie takes a dive anyway: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP

Fort mcmurray fire fuel truck gasoline

A truck drives on a highway as a wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray. The true toll of the blaze won't fully be known for a while yet. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

One story made all others pale in comparison this week, and that was, of course, the devastating wildfire in and around Fort McMurray, Alta.

While the human story is still unfolding, it's clear the blaze will have a major economic impact. Oilsands operations in the area, while not under direct threat from the flames, have started to shut down as a precaution and to make their work camps available to house displaced citizens.

We don't yet know the full tally of damage inflicted to homes and businesses, but it's becoming clear the fire could be the largest natural disaster in Canadian history, at least in terms of the cost to insurance companies, with some estimates as high as $9 billion.

The fire has already knocked a million barrels of oil production offline every day, enough to make an actual dent in Canada's GDP.

Bad times are nothing new to Fort Mac, a city that has been through several booms and busts over the years. But the scale of the damage makes it feel different this time.

"I do think the oilsands facilities will ramp back up as fast as they can, and they do have a lot of temporary housing around the oilsands region," ARC Financial vice-president Jackie Forrest told us this week. "But there's many people who will not have jobs to go back to. 

"Businesses in Fort McMurray have been burned down and so I think we will see more loss of employment because of this devastating wildfire."

Oil gains but loonie loses ground

The fire did lead to one interesting business story that we haven't seen in a while this week, as oil and the Canadian dollar moved in opposite directions.

Oil surged through the week as it became clear that the fire was enough to impact global supply. Ordinarily that would be good news for the loonie too, but it lost more than two cents this week as investors realized the scope of the damage — something that is a negative for Canada's economy no matter what it means for oil.

Bleak trade numbers earlier in the week didn't help either, as Statistics Canada reported that the gap between what Canada imports from the rest of the world and what the country ships out has widened to its largest level on record — $3.4 billion.

Brain zapping, on purpose?

The crush of media coverage surrounding the fire drew a lot of attention away from other stories this week, including many that are worthy of your attention. 

This one, for example, from the CBC's Aaron Saltzman, highlights an innovative new product called the Halo Sport, which is quickly making a name for itself among fitness buffs — but among critics too.

That's because the headband claims to be able to improve athletic performance by giving a low voltage shock to the brain.

It sounds hard to believe, but fans of the device swear by it. Formerly available only to professional athletes, it's now available to consumers, which has prompted some critics to question its safety.

"To me, it's almost the equivalent of giving you an experimental drug over the counter and saying 'go with it, have fun' because it seems to be producing interesting effects that you might enjoy," said Gunnar Blohm, an associate professor at Queen's University's School of Medicine who is skeptical of the device. 

"Try it at your own risk," he said, "but I wouldn't."

Other stuff

Those were just a few of our more popular stories this week. Check out our landing page for more, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter here. In the meantime, here's a day-by-day review of our best stories of the past week.






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