Alberta Wildfires: Update

Finally contained, fire still presents long struggle ahead

For the first time late Monday night and early Tuesday, reports from Fort McMurray, Alberta characterized the rampant wildfires in the area as “being held” since they began May 1.

It is a huge victory for firefighters who have been battling the blaze nonstop for over six weeks now, desperately trying to prevent it from burning through more of the boreal forest than the thousands of square kilometers it has already destroyed.

Six weeks after it roared into Fort McMurray, the huge fire in northern Alberta is now classified as 'being held' for the first time. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

Six weeks after it roared into Fort McMurray, the huge fire in northern Alberta is now classified as ‘being held’ for the first time. —Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg photo

On Monday, Alberta’s wildfire office characterized the blaze as “being held” for the first time, reported Justin Giovannetti of Edmonton’s Globe and Mail, indicating firefighters expect the inferno won’t keep spreading. It may take several more months for the fire to be considered under control.

Wildfire information officer Lynn Daina said the designation means the fire is no longer growing, but is not yet under control. Daina said it’s an important day for firefighters who have been battling the blaze for weeks. “It is a big deal. It is like the happy dance day,” she told the Toronto Star Monday. “There has been so much and so many people on this fire — more than 2,000 at its peak working it daily.”

The perimeter of the fire, including burned areas, covers just under 5,900 square kilometres. Daina said the work of firefighters combined with recent rainy weather and high humidity checked the fire’s growth. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo estimates that about half of the more than 80,000 people who fled the Fort McMurray area on May 3 are back in the community after being allowed to return this month.

As for businesses in the electromechanical industry, EA was very pleased to hear even the most minimal feedback from some of our subscribers and readers. “We’re still getting everything settled, working out of our Edmonton location,” said Jason Kokoram, service coordinator at Electric Motor Shop Ltd. Kokoram also mentioned that no one from his company was harmed during the evacuation process.

It’s a turning point for a city that has lived through two years of hardship due to persistently low energy prices—thousands of jobs lost, billions of dollars’ worth of energy projects cancelled—and then a wildfire that destroyed one-tenth of its houses.

The unfortunate reality—a sidecar of natural disasters—is the mental toll. Area residents have shown a noticeable increase in mental instability and mental health difficulties. Since the evacuation of the city early last month, Alberta Health Services has received more than 8,700 contacts from people seeking some form of mental health support — an average of about 225 per day, according to the Edmonton Journal.

As recently as Wednesday, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) had reported that they had ruled out lightning as a cause for the start of the fire, believing human activity to be the initial spark.

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