The wildfires that started on May 2 and forced the evacuation of almost 90,000 people from Fort McMurray, AB, have not abated. Hot, dry weather and the winds generated by the firestorms themselves burned through the town two weeks ago and leveled as many as 2,000 homes and buildings. Fortunately no lives were lost to the flames.
Now “the beast” has turned to the north. The shift in direction comes just as bitumen producers were ready to restart production. Now the threat has them once more shutting down. Camps for oil sands workers are being evacuated. Already the Blacksands camp, 34 km north of town, has burned to the ground. East of Fort McMurray, the flames have reached the Saskatchewan border.
The fires have grown to cover 355 km2, a vast area. Firefighters can only do so much to protect structures. Even where the fire appears to be doused, it can smoulder and flare up again spreading hot sparks to new fuel sources. The only hope for putting the fires out completely is several days of heavy rain.
The cost of this disaster is counted in the billions of dollars. Perhaps $1-billion lost from the local economy. Maybe as much as $9 billion in total damages, outstripping even the amount done by Hurricane Katrina. The loss of oil output will be felt by consumers across the country as hikes in the gasoline price are expected. The personal losses of those whose homes burned are inestimable.
Meanwhile Canadians are pouring aid into the stricken area in the form of money for housing and feeding the evacuees, clothing, animal care, and the inevitable materials for rebuilding.
Again CMJ urges its readers to donate to www.RedCross.ca as our editors and publisher have done. Remember that the federal government will match individual donations to the Red Cross.