Alberta Wildfire

Mass evacuation and a struggle for containment

For the area of Fort McMurray in Alberta, the month of May has thus far been marked by peril and insecurity.

Since wildfires started May 1, the oil-rich urban service area has struggled with the uncertainty of containment, and many of its approximately 60,000 residents have been forced to evacuate to the south (some reports place the overall evacuee total around 80,000 when including surrounding affected areas). While at least 1,600 homes have been destroyed by the blaze, BBC reported Tuesday that around 90% of the city’s buildings survived, including all hospitals and schools. It has been estimated that the fire could continue to burn for a number of months. A number of EA readers, including those who run electrical repair shops and work with local utilities, are in the fire-ravaged area. Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen says firefighters worked to stop the fire from ravaging downtown, and many buildings, including homes, businesses, schools and the hospital were saved.

The region of northeast Alberta, marked by the Athabasca oil sands and surrounding boreal forest, is now attempting to move forward as favorable changes in weather present a glimmer of optimism. Canadian Premier Rachel Notley visited Fort McMurray on Monday, offering much-needed information on recovery efforts. Notley, who will be meeting oil company executives and government officials to discuss upcoming steps for recovery, said it will take at least two weeks of planning alone, with an indefinite timeline beyond that, for residents and workers to start returning to the area.

Taken by the WorldView-2, this image shows Fort McMurray before the fires. The infrared camera detects the living forest as bright red.

Taken by the WorldView-2, this image shows Fort McMurray before the fires. The infrared camera detects the living forest as bright red.

First responders, firefighters, and emergency teams across the spectrum have been called in from all reaches of Canada to suppress the fire and ultimately douse it. It will be a long and difficult process. But these first responders have already been able to use satellites with infrared cameras to asses the radius and damage of the fire. Before and after images, courtesy of DigitalGlobe, can be seen above and below. These images are taken from 350 miles above the earth.

As reported by WIRED magazine, “the images come from a pair of satellites operated by DigitalGlobe, a remote sensing company. Called WorldView 2 and 3, each looks at different swaths of the infrared spectrum, which allows them to see a dynamic picture of the devastation. First responders use images like these to predict a fire’s movement, and plan their suppression efforts.”

Fort McMurray after the fire. The gray areas indicate forests that are now destroyed.

Fort McMurray after the fire. The gray areas indicate forests that are now destroyed.

Alberta’s provincial government funds are providing $100 million—at least—for evacuee relief. The impact is impossible to fully convey. CBC News’ Lauren O’Neil published this heart-wrenching article May 9, providing firsthand accounts and reactions from those who were there in person. Many of the interviewed describe moments of terrible rushed decisions in which they were forced to decide instantaneously which essentials to take with them and leave personal possessions and property behind. While the fire has been initially contained, it still rages nearby and presents a perilous threat to the city and at least 200,000 hectacres of surrounding area. In the days when the fire began, temperatures in the region were around 90 degrees. This is a noteworthy deviation from annual averages for the area that has predictably induced conversations about the effects of global warming.

Despite some hopeful reports of temperature drops and the increased emergency response, as of today, the fire was still increasing in size, as two separate fires had merged. It has now ranged as far south as Gregoire Lake, and as far east as 30 kilometers from the border of Saskatchewan.

Fort Mac, as it is affectionately known to locals, will need heart and help to get back.


  1. Flanders: Expanders | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - April 27, 2017

    […] northern Alberta, a phoenix rises from the ashes. Almost a full year after lethal wildfires ravaged the Fort McMurray, Alberta service area—a municipality based on the rich oil sands […]

  2. Fiery Déjà vu | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - July 26, 2018

    […] There were also massive wildfires in Northern Canada in 2016. […]

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