Canadian wildfires expected to rage for months

May 9, 2016 3:30 am

In this image, released by the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), members of the RCMP monitor the wildfire in Fort McMurray, , May 7, 2016. (Via AFP)

Officials in Canada’s Alberta say they expect a huge wildfire in the oil sands area of the province to continue burning for months to come.
The provincial government said on Saturday that the massive blaze will torch a vast area covering over 2,000 square kilometers by Sunday and get even worse because of continued high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.
Chad Morrison, Alberta’s manager of wildfire prevention, said fighting such an inferno in heavily forested areas could take months.
There is fear the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.
“In no way is this fire under control,” Rachel Notley, Alberta’s premier, said.

In this image, released by the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), members of the RCMP monitor the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Canada, May 7, 2016. (Via AFP)

Air quality warnings have already been issued in Saskatchewan and Northwest Territory and locals have been advised to close windows and doors due to the smoke from the fire.
No deaths or injuries have been reported, however.
The fire and mass evacuations have forced a quarter or more of Canada’s oil output offline and is expected to impact an economy already hurt by the fall in the prices of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray, where some neighborhoods have been destroyed.
More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray in the heart of Canada’s oil sands, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings.
Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is not drinkable. Officials said there is no timeline to return residents to the city, but the Alberta government has begun preliminary planning, though it stresses fighting the fire is still the first priority.
The cause of the fire has not been determined; it is said that it started a week ago in a remote forested area and could have been ignited by lightning.

Heat waves are seen as cars and trucks drive past a wildfire 16km south of Fort McMurray. The are expected to rage for months. Photo / AP

The images are ones of devastation – scorched homes, virtually whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. It rained a little this morning in Fort McMurray, but Canadian officials say they expect to fight the massive wildfire that has destroyed large parts of Alberta’s oil sands town for months.
There’s fear the growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even cross into the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.
The Alberta government said the massive blaze in the province will cover more than 200,000 hectares by today and continue to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds. Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire said it’s not uncommon to fight such an inferno in forested areas for months.
Morrison said the fire was burning away from communities this weekend. He expected cooler temperatures along with the rain, but significant rainfall is needed to put out the flames.


The Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, tweeted a picture of the rainfall and wrote: “It was only for a few minutes but the sight of rain has never been so good.” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley retweeted the picture and wrote “Here’s hoping for much more!”
Canadian officials hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Fort McMurray, fearing a growing bushfire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine and even the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.
Thousands of displaced residents were getting a sobering drive-by view of some of the burned-out neighbourhoods as convoys continued. The images were largely ones of devastation – scorched trucks, charred homes and telephone poles, burned out from the bottom up, hanging in the wires like little wooden crosses. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Notley said about 12,000 evacuees have been airlifted from oil sands mine airfields over the past two days and about 7000 have been evacuated in police escorted highway convoys. She said the goal was to complete the evacuation of evacuees from northern work camps by today.
Officials said the fire could burn to the edges of the Suncor oil sands facility, about 25km north of Fort McMurray. Non-essential staff have been evacuating and efforts to protect the site were under way.
Oil sands mines are resilient to fires because they are cleared and have no vegetation, said Morrison. He said the sites also have very good industrial fire departments, and that the fire wasn’t expected to reach oil sands mines north of Suncor.
The fire and mass evacuation has forced a quarter or more of Canada’s oil output offline and was expected to impact an economy already hurt by the fall in the price of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Police said many parts of smoke-filled Fort McMurray are burnt and visibility is low. Officers wore masks as they checked homes to make sure everyone was out.

Queues of traffic stretched for kilometres as residents flee wildfire in the Canadian province of Alberta. Photo / AP

More than 80,000 people have left Fort McMurray, where the fire has torched 1600 homes and other buildings. Officials said there is no timeline to return residents to the city, but the Alberta Government has begun preliminary planning, though it stresses fighting the fire is still the first priority.
Morrison said the fire is burning away from communities. He said cooler temperatures were expected today and this week. “We feel that it will hold there if we get some cooler conditions over the next two or three days.”
They could get rainfall today but significant rain is needed.
The fire started last Sunday and has destroyed more than 1500sq km of northern Alberta forest.
Lac La Biche, normally a sleepy town of 2500 about 175km south of Fort McMurray, was helping thousands of evacuees, providing a place to sleep, food, donated clothes and even shelter for their pets.
Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesman for Lac La Biche County, said 4400 evacuees have come through the Bold Centre, a sports facility in town.
At the centre, tables were piled with clothes, towels and other items. The centre was offering three free meals a day and other services, including mental health services. A kennel housed people’s pets on site.
Philip Wylie, wife Suda and 13-month-old daughter Phaedra were among those staying at the centre after evacuating their apartment in Fort McMurray on Wednesday.
“Trees were blowing up against our vehicles,” Philip Wylie said of the caravan drive out of town.
“We don’t know what we’re going to go back to, or when we can go back.”
Suda Wylie said the day they evacuated started out clear, and they thought they would be fine. Then, in a matter of hours, she said she opened the blinds and “the sky was orange”.
They rushed to pack, grabbed documents, passports and their laptops before they left, but only packed enough clothes for two days, thinking they would quickly return.
The family spent the first night camping on the property of a sandpit after the owner said they could set up camp near a pond. Once they realised that the fire was growing and they couldn’t get home, they went to an evacuation centre.
“Everything that I’m wearing right now, besides my shoes and my socks, is donation,” Philip Wylie said.

Trapped pet effort

Emergency workers in Alberta are joining a grassroots effort to rescue pets trapped in homes after a massive bushfire forced their owners to leave without them.
Locksmith Kevin Wonitowy said he entered the city of Fort McMurray to pick the locks of homes with pets, after a request from the local emergency management team.
Wonitowy said he would be needed for three to four days in the nearly empty city that previously housed 88,000. He will open doors for emergency workers who will take the pets to shelters.
Just days after the mass evacuation last Wednesday, some residents entered the city after they said they obtained permission from local authorities.
Bryan Jones said he and a friend rescued 27 dogs and cats on Friday.
But local police and officials have said they do not want non-emergency personnel in the city, warning that there is still thick smoke and major damage.
A local non-profit’s website showed more than 80 animal rescue groups had opened their doors to pets of residents forced to evacuate with little warning.
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