We're grateful to Shayne Mintz, NFPA Canadian Regional Director, for his updates on the unfolding scenario of wildfire disaster in Alberta, Canada. This morning, Friday, May 6, Shayne reported that the fire is not yet under control due to weather conditions that have not changed. The fire area is now greater in size than the city of Calgary. Due to dwindling supplies, CBC reports that approximately 25,000 evacuees who headed north for refuge in the oil sands camps as a result of the fires in Fort McMurray are being moved and relocated south to Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.
Shayne added, "Today, RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has already begun leading a convoy down Highway 63 complete with fuel tankers, air support to make sure the convoy is aware of any hazards or risk that may arise, and other resources such as service vehicles to ensure the convoy stays intact and complete. The convoy will be travelling through Fort McMurray to get to the south, so the evacuees from Fort McMurray will be seeing for the first time the devastation that has hit their community."
Insurance companies have begun deploying staff to begin the recovery and claims process. They forecast insured losses at $9 billion. This is now being predicted to be the largest natural disaster in Canadian history, surpassing the combined losses from the Central Alberta floods of 2013, the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, and the 1998 Eastern Ontario Ice Storm.
Many readers may be wondering what they can do to help. Shayne said that donations to the Canadian Red Cross to help in recovery are greatly appreciated. He indicated that the Canadian government is matching such donations dollar for dollar.
Report from Thursday, May 5 - by Lucian Deaton, NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division
This morning, we spoke with NFPA’s Canadian Regional Director, Shayne Mintz, based in Ontario, Canada to gain some understanding of the wildfire and its impact. He shared that, “With the near drought-like conditions in British Columbia and Alberta [Canada], over the past two years and the unusually high spring temperatures – coupled with low humidity, this is definitely unusual and it sets the stage for a potentially bad fire season.” He added that, “temperatures in Alberta are some of the warmest in Canada right now because of weather patterns that have highs in the 80s(f).
Shayne also reflected on the fire, explaining that, “it took a lot of people by surprise that it got into Fort McMurray, becoming an urban conflagration.”
To better understand this area of Canada, Shayne relayed that it is in the northern arboreal forests and is a big economic area for timber, oil, and gas extraction. Fort McMurry is the home of Canada’s large oil sands production facilities and was not a big community until the oil boom of the past decade.
I asked Shayne about the current evacuations and he shared that, “the community is served by one highway in and out with one bridge on Highway 63 into Fort McMurray. Since a southern evacuation has presented challenges, many residents are fleeing north to camp areas and mining camps. These commercial mining camps are airlifting or otherwise relocating staff to facilitate evacuees.” He added that local press has already marked this as the largest evacuation in Alberta history and that the wildfire has eclipsed the home loss of the 2011 Slave Lake, Alberta, wildfire.
Shayne’s shared that his message to both Canadian and NFPA audiences elsewhere, “is that communities can help defend against wildfires by applying the principles of FireSmart, and for more information, visit www.firesmartcanada.ca to learn more on how to help reduce the wildfire risk they may face in their communities”
Photo Credit: Terry Reith/CBC (5 May 2016, Wildfires: The science of how they spread and how they're stopped - Technology & Science - CBC News )