Massive rescue and aid operations launched amidst growing wildfires in Alberta
Yesterday, Reuters reported that around 90,000 people have been evacuated due to the Alberta province’s raging inferno. While cooler temperatures Friday provided a modicum of relief for emergency crews and residents, Saturday’s forecast is dry and hot.
The Canadian government’s response to the wildfires is an excellent example of the pooling and distribution of resources possible when the populace is organized, as opposed to scattered and holed up in remote hideaways. In examining the catastrophe-response strategies of our neighbors to the north, we can add some valuable knowledge to our own preparations for, and survival through, a variety of disaster types here at home.
The logistics of a disaster on the scale of Alberta’s don’t allow for perfection or anything approximating it. But thousands of evacuees who have been sleeping on cots in a hockey arena, for example, say they’ve been treated quite well food-wise and in terms of other aid. On Thursday, emergency chiefs also announced that the large group at the rink would be moved gradually to more permanent housing which is available in surrounding areas.
Alberta residents are also receiving pre-loaded debit cards from their local and federal governments, as well as from the Red Cross. Some of the money is simply meant to make sure the population has “cash on-hand” for necessities, and some is meant as seed money for people looking to commence rebuilding businesses or residences. All told, at the end of a couple of weeks, each Albertan adult will have received the U.S. equivalent of two to three thousand dollars. Each dependent is receiving one to two thousand dollars.
The jury is still out as to the prime cause of the fire, but it originated only 15 kilometers (less than 10 miles) from Fort McMurray, a major hub of the Canadian oil sands industry. It is clear that El Niño forces are at work, however. Similar weather conditions were present in the late 1990s, when wildfires sparked up in the same area (part of largest biome in the world, known as the taiga or boreal forest).
El Niño’s effects, whether in Canada or east-central Africa, have been getting stronger over the past few years. Global warming has kindled Pacific water temperatures that strengthen El Niño, and the rest (drought and fire in the taiga, flood and famine in the semi-arid desert and grass savanna) is basically a domino effect.
However, all four major petroleum corporations in Alberta have declared forces majeures (similar to the English legal term “acts of God”), which nullify certain contractual obligations. These claims ought to be investigated, especially in regard to whether an accident or sabotage at Fort McMurray might have started the fires. Weather conditions aside, the oil sand industry could actually be liable for some of this! Economists say it could turn out to be the costliest disaster in Canadian history.
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, is about the many ways in which we face existential threats daily.