Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fort McMurray Wildfire

On May 1, 2016, a wildfire began southwest of the urban service area of Fort McMurray in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada. On May 3, it swept through the community, destroying more than 1,600 homes and buildings and forcing the largest evacuation of residents in Alberta's history. A record-setting early May temperature of 32 °C (90 °F), extremely dry conditions, low relative humidity at 13% (from a dew point as low as +1 °C (34 °F)) and high winds contributed to the fire's growth.

Progression of Fire

A local state of emergency was initially declared May 1 at 9:57 p.m. (03:57 UTC May 2) with the Centennial Trailer Park and the neighbourhoods of Prairie Creek and Gregoire under a mandatory evacuation. The evacuation orders for the two neighbourhoods were reduced to a voluntary stay-in-place order by the night of May 2 as the fire moved southwest and away from the area. However, the mandatory evacuation order was reinstated and expanded to 12 neighbourhoods on May 3 at 5:00 p.m. (23:00 UTC), and to the entirety of Fort McMurray by 6:49 p.m. (00:49 UTC May 4). A further order covering the nearby communities of Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Fort McMurray First Nation was issued at 9:50 p.m. on May 4 (03:50 UTC May 5). It has been reported that 88,000 people were successfully evacuated, with no reported fatalities or injuries, however two people were killed in a traffic crash during the evacuation.
                                          Very large flames and heavy smoke surrounded
                                       congested Highway 63 South – photo by RD Darren

Financial Impact

Initial insurance payouts are estimated to total as much as C$9 billion if the entire town has to be rebuilt. This would make it the most expensive disaster in Canadian history, surpassing the 1998 ice storms in Quebec ($1.9 billion) and the 2013 Alberta floods ($1.8 billion). The 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, which destroyed most of the town of Slave Lake, cost approximately $750 million and was the most expensive fire-related disaster in Canadian history. The larger damage estimates are a result of Fort McMurray being 10 times the size of Slave Lake. A further estimate based on current damage pegs the insurance payouts at $2.6–4.7 billion.

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