What started as a small brush fire south of Fort McMurray (Fort Mac) Alberta has turned into the largest wildfire in Alberta history, and prompted the largest evacuation in Canada.
Fort Mac is a pivotal city in oil-rich Alberta and is a major economic engine for Canada. Fort Mac has taken a beating over the last two years with the downturn in the global oil market. Tens of thousands of people have been laid off in the oil sands projects. Others in the city who rely on the oil sand workers to buy trucks, groceries, or ATV’s, also lost their jobs. It’s been bleak to say the least. Fortunately, the oil sands is not like an oil well that can be turned off so while new projects were put on hold, there was hope that it would all come back as oil prices rise again.
Tuesday, May 3 all of this ceased to matter. What mattered was getting out of the city alive. The brush fire turned into a monster. Voluntary evacuations turned into mandatory. Fort Mac resident Ken Carpenter said to his fiance “We aren’t under mandatory evacuation yet but we’re leaving NOW! There’s one way out of town and we’re not getting stuck in this inferno!” At 1530 (3:30 pm), with flames all around them, they left everything behind except their pets and a few possessions. Taking the only road south they headed to a friend’s place in Edmonton, 5 hours away. They couldn’t have made a better decision. Others who waited for officials to tell them to leave sat for hours in snarled traffic. Some didn’t make it to a place of refuge for days, running out of gas, food and other essentials. Trapped on a smoky highway with flames nearby, their cars stalling from lack of oxygen, Fort Mac residents faced a very uncertain future.
Today, May 8th, their future is more bleak than ever.
My heart breaks for them. I’ve been to Fort Mac many times, as have most in flatbed/equipment hauling like myself. I have friends there. My oldest son had lived there only a few months back. I understand the importance of that city to our country’s financial well-being.
The leaders of the Alberta and Canadian governments chose to take a backseat, leaving the city and neighboring municipality to fight the fire. Other communities, cities, and regular people jumped in, offering assistance immediately. Carpenter himself took a relief load of supplies to Lac La Biche where some residents were welcomed with open arms.
Canadians of all backgrounds pitched in while leaders who cut essential services like forest firefighters and ignored the danger to an important city, went on vacation and refused to declare a state of emergency until the city was razed.
Fort Mac will rise again. Canadians are resilient, hardworking and generous.
Fort Mac needs our thoughts and prayers and whatever assistance we can provide. All some have left, are memories. All will have to deal with the trauma of the fire and the endless details of insurance, rebuilding, and getting life back to a semblance of normalcy. I doubt that the city will be the same, but I believe it will be stronger. The residents are heroes to me.
No other city could have evacuated all residents, some 88,000 strong, and only lost two lives in a traffic collision fleeing in the smoke.
Stay strong Fort Mac.
off like a herd of turtles…