Whether by Fire or by Flood

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Two years ago, this very week, May 1st, 2016 to be exact, Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Western Canada was a tinder box, and went up in flames. We covered that tragedy here on the blog. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, thousands upon thousands of homes were burned to the ground.

But, resilient as people are, Fort McMurray is on the rebound as rebuilding has been going on since the all clear was sounded.

Seasonal changes have been occurring … This is fact.

Winters have been long and arduous. The snow pack is deep, again this year. Snow has been falling to the ground across Canada into the month of May this year. Here in Quebec, Winter went so long, we thought it would never end.

Conditions out West are not much better. The Winter season dropped inordinate amounts of snow on mountainous terrain, and across the prairies. melting snow running downslope into rivers, is a serious danger.

Now, that very snow is melting at rapid rates. The almost sudden shift from Winter into Spring, over the past few weeks, is wreaking havoc on communities across the country.

Rivers here in Quebec, New Brunswick, and across Canada, from Manitoba to British Columbia have risen so high that they have burst their banks and once again, the season of flooding has begun in earnest.

Last year, flooding caused by rising rivers here around the island of Montreal, forced hundreds of families from their homes. With that flooding, many of those homes were deemed uninhabitable. People are still living in hotels, a year later. Some of those families have been tossed onto the streets, having over stayed their welcome.

The Province will not rebuild a home in a flood plain, for the one reason that in a flood plain, homes will flood seasonally, so why pay to rebuild a home that is going to get wet again and again. So where do you relocate families who have, some, lived in those homes for decades ? Rising water, from coast to coast is problematic.

This is not a passing oddity for sure. We are watching the climate decimate homes and property across the board, year after year. Either by Fire or by Water.

Where are they supposed to go now ?

Homes in flood plains have yet to be repaired, and the Province and the City have yet to do what they need to do to get these families back into their homes, that STILL need to be cleaned, repaired and for many, rebuilt from the ground up.

And now in 2018, the rivers are rising again. Severe flooding has stricken New Brunswick in very serious conditions. People are running for their lives, having to be evacuated by boats because vehicles cannot pass deep water.

This same problem has affected points West from Manitoba through to British Columbia.

If conditions are too dry … Wildfires are a given.
If conditions are too wet … Flooding blankets the country.

If this is a problem in First world cities in Canada, imagine what is happening, on Third World Reserves, also in Canada. Our Reserve inhabitants have been in constant flux, being airlifted from their reserves to bigger cities that can accommodate them because their land has been flooded.

This is also fact … Third World reserves in First World Canada …

Whether it be the lack of clean water, or substandard housing, or health concerns, our people who live on reserves in rural Canada, have it very bad. And the government has done very little to alleviate or mitigate this very serious issue.

Many reserves are located on land that is either land locked, (read: Forest) or only accessible by plane or by boat. And with the flooding season already begun in many communities, the airlift of people being moved from one location to another has been going on for weeks now, as rising waters inundate lower lying communities.

You don’t often hear about the plight of the Third World reserves in Canada, because it is a dirty little secret, that nobody talks about, but every once in a while, the National News will hit a piece about current conditions on the ground.

Reserves on land that are not connected to Big City Infrastructure suffer more than those main line big cities, in comparison. When a river jumps its banks on land that is not regulated by dams or levies, or infrastructure, the damage is severe.

Once a river jumps its banks, where ever that river lies … Mitigation is pointless.

Rivers have jumped their banks across Canada.

Welcome to the Spring Thaw …

Fort McMurray fire: Alberta airlifts evacuees, readies convoy

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Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, May 5, 2016 7:32AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 5, 2016 10:30PM EDT

Thousands of people trapped in isolated oilfield work camps north of Fort McMurray, Alta., were airlifted to major cities on Thursday, and the province is planning to allow police-escorted convoys of vehicles to pass southbound through the fire-gutted city, starting on Friday morning.

“Since this morning, we’ve been able to have roughly 4,000 people evacuated from the north of the city down to either Edmonton or Calgary,” Premier Rachel Notley told reporters at a briefing Thursday night. “This has been done primarily through the work of industry, bringing in WestJet flights,” she said. Notley added that she hoped 8,000 in total would be evacuated to the cities by the end of the day, with more expected to be flown out Friday.

About two-thirds of Fort McMurray’s 80,000 residents fled south after the mandatory evacuation orders were issued earlier this week. However, about 25,000 went north to oilfield camps, where there is limited food and gasoline.

The only road out of the camps, Highway 63, runs right through Fort McMurray. It remains closed.

Just hours before Notley spoke, RCMP Sgt. Jack Poitras told reporters that the fire was once again jumping the highway, as flames moved south from Fort McMurray toward the community of Anzac.

Chad Morrison, a manager with Alberta Wildfire Prevention and Enforcement, told reporters Thursday evening that the fires around Fort McMurray had burned through an area of about 850 square kilometres. That’s roughly the size of the city of Calgary. He said there were roughly 40 fires still burning, including one that was about three kilometres from Anzac, which was evacuated late Wednesday, along with Gregoire Lake Estates and Fort McMurray First Nation.

Morrison said that flame-spreading winds are expected to “calm down” Friday, but “with a few more hot dry days ahead of us … we’re not out of the woods yet.”

There isn’t any rain in the weather forecast until Sunday.

Notley said she could not offer an update on the number of houses that had been destroyed. She did, however, say that the fire’s “rate of growth” had “slowed,” with firefighters making progress in protecting the Thickwood and Timberlea neighbourhoods, along with the downtown.

A day earlier, she had said an estimated 1,600 structures had been affected.

‘Not a matter of days’

Premier Notley said that it is not possible to offer a timeline on when residents will be able to return home. However she said: “Unfortunately, we do know that it will not be a matter of days.”

Notley said evacuated residents will be given opportunities to visit their homes to assess damage and collect valuables “once it is safe to do so.” She warned residents that they must not return now, adding “The city is not safe.”

“I understand that the Albertans who are affected by this tragedy are scared, and very tired, and very worried about their homes, and what the future holds for them and their families,” she added. “Trust us, that we will have your back.”

Notley said “additional financial supports will be made available to ensure that affected Albertans have the resources and income supports that they need,” and that a “cash card option” is being discussed.

The premier encouraged Fort McMurray residents to re-locate to Edmonton or Calgary, where she said there are more services in place and schools available that can make room for displaced students immediately.

Notley stressed that those who have been evacuated should notify the provincial government by visiting Emergency.Alberta.ca or by contacting the Red Cross, even if they are not planning to use emergency shelters.

“We need more information about who has been evacuated, where they are and what supports you require,” she said.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson told CTV’s Power Play that about 20,000 people had arrived in the provincial capital already, with about 6,000 more expected by the end of the day.

Only a few thousand had registered with the city’s emergency reception centre, he said. Most are staying with friends, relatives or in hotels, he added. Many others are in the communities of Lac La Biche and Calgary.

‘A few stragglers’

Sgt. Poitras told reporters that RCMP officers had stayed in the nearly-abandoned city to make sure everyone had heeded the mandatory evacuation order.

He said police continued to find “stragglers” as late as 10 or 11 p.m. on Wednesday, and they were escorted out of town.

There were no reports of looting, he said.

Province-wide fire ban in place

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced Thursday that a province-wide ban on fires had been put in place, noting “extreme” risk and fears that strained resources could be pulled away from the fight in Fort McMurray.

Phillips also said she wants Albertans to avoid off-highway vehicle use, noting that recreational vehicles have sparked fires in the past. She also asked residents to reconsider their plans for the weekend, and to be extra cautious if they choose to use camping stoves.

Federal Response

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday morning that the federal government will match all individual donations to Red Cross relief efforts for Fort McMurray. “We will make it through this most difficult time together,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons.

Alberta had said Wednesday that it too would match donations.

Looking visibly distraught, interim Official Opposition leader Rona Ambrose thanked Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale for their efforts to help her home province.

“It’s a tough day for Albertans but we will persevere,” said Ambrose, who represents the riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland. She vowed that the Conservatives will support Trudeau “every step of the way” in taking practical steps to help Fort McMurray. She also urged the government to make Fort McMurray a priority in its infrastructure spending plans, as the city will need to rebuild its streets and community centres after the flames are put out.

Ambrose started to choke up as she spoke, prompting Trudeau to cross the floor and to give her a hug.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair urged the federal government to move quickly in providing employment insurance for Fort McMurray evacuees. He also hailed the evacuees for their “stoic, strong and poised response” to the crisis.

On Wednesday, Minister Goodale said that Service Canada is looking into “the necessity for income supports as people try to restore their lives and get back to some semblance of normalcy.”

He told CTV’s Power Play Thursday that the federal government had given Alberta “everything it had asked for,” including military planes, cots and bedding, and geomatics support.

Wildrose leader’s home burned

Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray-Athabasca, is among the many whose homes have been destroyed.

“My home is burnt to the ground but it’s just stuff,” a teary-eyed Jean told reporters on Wednesday. “All my stuff, all my memories. I lost a son last year…” he said.

He added that the “best news” about the fire is there have been no lives lost. “That’s what we’ve got to concentrate on now,” he said.

Jean, who leads the Wildrose Party, later told CTV’s Power Play he is optimistic that the community will be rebuilt better than ever. “We will come back stronger and continue to provide the great economic generation that we do for the rest of the country,” he said.

Worst-affected neighbourhoods

In an update sent out on Wednesday afternoon, officials said 90 per cent of Fort McMurray’s Waterways neighbourhood has been destroyed, while 70 per cent of Beacon Hill has burned and 50 per cent of the homes in the Abasand neighbourhood are gone.

With files from Josh Elliott, The Canadian Press, CTV Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks, Toronto Bureau Reporter Peter Akman, CTV National News Bureau Chief Jill Macychon and CTV Edmonton

Thursday – Alberta is on FIRE !!!

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Or, more to the point, Fort McMurray Alberta is on FIRE.

Catastrophic fires, Armageddon Fires are burning out of control in the city of Fort McMurray Alberta. Almost 90,000 people were evacuated from the city two days ago, and the fires are moving South, into the cities that those original evacuees evacuated to.

So they not only had to evacuate once, they had to evacuate TWICE.

The Canadian Government is matching ALL donations to this catastrophe. More than $22 million dollars have been raised since this all began. MORE is needed.

Resources from all over the country are converging on Alberta as we speak.

I spent a chunk of the afternoon watching live camera coverage of this tragedy.

I know what it is like to loose a home to Storm and Hurricane damage, I’ve been there and done that. At least for us, we had bones to rebuild from, the stuff, however water logged and warped, most of it was salvageable, and we rebuilt.

But FIRE, there is nothing left but ashes. When your life is reduced to ashes, what is there left to rebuild, or recover ? Nothing is left.

We are all very saddened at this tragedy.

There are a number of fires burning out there, several are being left to burn themselves out, (Read: Out of Control) and nobody knows where that is going to end up.

Firefighters from all over the country are also converging on Alberta.

Fires are rated from a ( 1 ) to a ( 6 ).

This Alberta Fire is rated at a ( 6 ) the most dangerous.

Many firefighters, are not trained up to a six. Forest Fire Fighters are, those who deal with this kind of catastrophic fire. A good number of fire fighters now traveling to Alberta are only threes or fours.

So they are on a steep learning curve.

This tragedy is not an Alberta Tragedy, but a Canadian Tragedy.

Just another addition to the long list of Canadian Tragedies that exist simultaneously.

We have a serious “people problem.” Where do all these people who fled FIRE go?

Even they are asking among themselves, “How long are we going to have to be here, and sleep like this (read: In a local gym in another town down the road from home?)

We don’t know when they will be able to return home, and nobody knows, at the time of this writing, just how many homes have been burned to the ground.

More than 850 square kilometers ( 328.2) square miles of land have burned, I saw reported before I began writing this.

The weather is not cooperating, with high winds, dry conditions, no rain in sight, and non-existent humidity that would at least help.

I learned today that fire ON the ground is easier to fight, than fire IN the tree tops.

Once the fire gets to the dry tree tops and branches, that kind of fire burns much hotter and moves quite quickly, fires can and usually do burn out of control, because fire is sentient, it burns, it moves and destroys in an instant. As the wind changes, fire moves with it. And we have seen that this combination has been deadly, on the ground.

I think the real fear is that this fire is not over, and won’t be over very soon.

And much more land is going to burn to the ground before this is over, and thousands upon thousands of people, are not going to have anything to return to in the end.

That is real tragedy.

The next few questions that rise are:

  • What do we do ?
  • Where do they go ?
  • What is it going to cost to rebuild homes and infrastructure ?
  • And where does that money come from ?
  • How many of these people did not have home/fire/insurance ?
  • And when it comes to rebuilding, where do these people live in the meantime ?
  • We live in Four Seasons, so time is really of the essence
  • Summer is only going to last so long, before the seasons change and on the Prairies Fall gets cold, and Winter gets BITTER.

These are real questions, that must be answered in the long term.

Based on the destruction I know happened during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, in Florida, the entire deep south of Miami, was leveled North/South/East/and West.

It took more than 10 years to rebuild that city from the rubble that was left.

If that is my simple guide, rebuilding an entire Prairie city and the cities that burned in addition to Fort McMurray, a decade is a simple start.

10 years is a long time …

This Catastrophic Fire needs to be fought and ended.

Then taking stock can take place, and then we can begin to answer these delicate questions of what to do next.

You can donate to the Canadian Red Cross.

The Government of Canada is matching ALL donations.

If you pray, please pray for those who have lost, for those who are Fighting Fire and all those who are doing their best to help those who need it most right now.

More to come, Stay tuned …