The fires around Fort McMurray will be the largest disaster on Canadian soil in history. Since May 2nd, the fire has expanded rapidly covering an area of over 241,000 hectares, the size of roughly one-third of the Greater Toronto Area. The fact that the fire destroyed 2400 houses and buildings and displaced nearly 90,000 people also makes it a human tragedy. Losing all your belongings and memories must be a devastating feeling. The moment that the city will be opened up is getting closer. The expectation is that the government will implement a phased approach. For example, those who work in essential services will go as the first group. Another group is the specialized engineers and insurance adjusters. Many of them are currently handing out cheques to policyholders in surrounding safe shelters. Once Fort McMurray is open to them, they will need to assess the damages to all affected homes and businesses. In some neighbourhoods, the losses are catastrophic and in others, there is only light smoke damage. The moment the city opens up there will be safety and security concerns. In many instances, properties will require some form of protection as it may not be livable, but may still contain valuable content. Also, a thorough inspection must be conducted to determine the damages, and the scene cannot be tampered with. Support in this next phase may also center around housing, food, cleaning and other basic needs. These services can be provided in the form of temporary camps with bedding and linens, kitchen trailers, shower facilities, laundry trailers and other equipment.
It is not only Western Canada that is experiencing a high amount of fires. Recently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry reported 45 fires that have burned over 85 hectares of land in Northern Ontario so far.
“Dr. Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, thinks this might be just a taste of things to come. Fire is a normal part of many ecosystems but the fire regime is changing in Canada, as warmer, dryer conditions, due to global warming, increase the chances of more frequent and intense wildfires. We’re also putting ourselves more at risk from fire by moving into naturally fire-prone environments in ever larger numbers.
Both of these factors will oblige us to learn to live and co-exist with fire, and find ways to reduce our risk and exposure when it comes.” (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/quirks-quarks-for-may-7-2016-1.3570026/fort-mcmurray-and-the-future-of-fire-1.3570153)
Many remote mines and oils sand operations have taken measures to protect their facilities against the destruction. Vast areas around the plants are cleared, so there is no material for the fire to consume. However, they still depend on functioning cities where their workers live and highways are used for transportation, products, and equipment.
The events of Fort McMurray will spark debates over how to protect vulnerable areas.