Many years ago, I visited Fort McMurray to tour the Canadian Oil Sands. The community is in northern Alberta, perhaps a five and a half hour drive from Edmonton. A few days ago a horrific wildfire began, which has been made worse by the fact that Tuesday this week the temperature was nearly double what is normal at this time of year. The sheer scale of the blaze is hard to comprehend without viewing the videos. This slideshow by NBC gives some sense of the size of what is happening. Citizens have been videotaping their dramatic experiences escaping from the town. Many people have been traumatized trying to flee on the one main highway that connects Fort McMurray to the rest of Alberta. I have read a figure that perhaps 1,600 structures have gone up in flames, but I think that it will be a long time before anyone can know the actual figure. It is heart-breaking to hear people lamenting the loss of their homes as they drive out through a highway with a wall of flames on one side.
My first memories are of Alberta, where my sister was born. My thoughts are with these people, whose lives have gone from ordinary to tragedy in the space of a few days. I also think it’s a reminder to all of us that there is always the possibility that we might suddenly need to leave our homes. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we must think about earthquakes and tsunamis, while others might need to worry about hurricanes, tsunamis or floods. As Mike Coston argues at the blog Avian Flu Diary, all of us might benefit from some basic disaster planning. I recommend his blog post on this topic; he always recommends that everyone have a “bug-out” bag to meet basic needs in an emergency. His post makes a good case why this is important. The city of Portland also a disaster preparedness website that lists the basics of a disaster plan, and the essential elements of a disaster kit. Like everyone else, I’m much to busy to spend much time thinking about a disaster;, but after seeing the videos from Alberta, I’ll make some time.
Shawn Smallman, May 2016