Friday, May 06, 2016

Alberta Declares State of Emergency as Thousands Flee Massive Wildfire

The Canadian province of Alberta declared a state of emergency Wednesday as 88,000 people in the city of Fort McMurray were forced to flee a fast-moving, immense wildfire.  The blaze has already destroyed 1,600 buildings, including a school.

The entire city could be scorched in what could end up being Canada’s costliest natural disaster.  Already 1,110 firefighters and 145 helicopters are on the scene.

Thick smoke made the evacuation routes — two roads out of town to the north and south — seem like night-time in the middle of the day.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the region was still experiencing extreme fire conditions, with 18 new fires starting Wednesday, bringing the total to 49 wildfires.  Seven of those were out of control, she said.  Containing them would be more challenging due to high winds. She did not have an update on structure fires in Fort McMurray because firefighters could not get into the city, according to Edmonton Journal politics reporter Emma Graney.

Many residents of Anzac, a hamlet southeast of Fort McMurray, helped shelter residents of the city but became evacuees themselves Wednesday night as the fire grew.

“You could hear the pop, pop, pop because of the propane tanks,” Doug Sulliman, a local resident, told the Associated Press.  “The fire was just consuming these houses.  It just destroyed the whole community.”
Last winter was drier than normal in part because of El NiƱo, which brought hot temperatures that easily melted the snowpack.  This left plenty of dry fuel for a wildfire to consume.

A warming planet makes these megablazes more likely and more dangerous across the globe. Wildfires tore up millions of acres in Alaska last year — a record-breaking fire season.  The year before was a historic wildfire season in Canada’s Northwest Territories and British Columbia.  This is a new era for wildfires this far north, thanks to climate change causing temperatures to rise and snowpack to disappear.

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