Alberta Fire Still “0 percent contained”
May 19, 2016
In case you were wondering.
The mammoth inferno devastating northern Alberta has now destroyed more than 877,000 acres — more than four times the size of New York City.Well over 1,700 firefighters are trying to get a grip on the blaze, which started May 1 near Fort McMurray.But as of Wednesday, the fire is still 0% contained, the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry department said.Even worse: The blaze is marching east toward Saskatchewan and will likely reach the province Wednesday, Alberta wildfire official Chad Morrison said.Also near the path: major oil sands used to process bitumen, CNN partner CBC reported.The inferno could actually burn through the winter and into next year, University of Alberta wildfire professor MIke Flannigan said.
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The wildfire raging through northern Alberta has swelled in size and surged north of Fort McMurray, consuming an evacuated oil sands camp on Tuesday and threatening several other facilities in the region.
“It continues to burn out of control,” said Rachel Notley, the Alberta premier, one day after the shifting fire forced the evacuation of 8,000 non-essential staff from more than a dozen camps and sites in the oil sands region.
Tinder-dry conditions and temperatures in the mid-20s Celsius helped fuel the wildfire’s growth to 355,000 hectares on Tuesday – a significant jump from 285,000 hectares one day earlier. “Mother nature continues to be our foe in this regard and not our friend,” Notley said.
Winds pushed the fire into an area dotted with oil sands work camps, completely destroying a 665-bed camp belonging to Horizon North Logistics just hours after the area was ordered evacuated. The company said every staff member was safe and accounted for.
The wildfire that swept through Fort McMurray two weeks ago has now breached a critical firebreak, threatening Canada’s largest oil production facilities, and forcing the evacuation of thousands more workers. As seen from space, this ongoing wildfire is a horrific sight to behold.
Plans to restart oilsands production in northern Alberta were put on hold this week when a change in wind direction sent the lingering wildfire north towards critical oil sands projects. Some 4,000 workers from a dozen work camps, including those run by Syncrude Canada and Suncor Energy, had to be evacuated. The fire’s change of direction caught the companies by surprise, delaying a much-needed return to production. A worker camp with 665 rooms burned to the ground yesterday.
Production facilities have been in a state of limbo since the first week of May, when the wildfire destroyed a significant portion of Fort McMurray, a boom town that’s home to thousands of oilsands workers. The fires have cut Canadian oil output by one million barrels a day. As of yesterday, the out-of-control blaze covered 877,224 acres (355,000 hectares), up from 704,250 acres (285,000 hectares) on Monday.
Fort McMurray could face a serious public-health problem as it tries to keep tons of toxins left by a huge wildfire from contaminating the city’s drinking water, says a University of Alberta scientist.
The blaze has torched more than 420,000 hectares of northern Alberta forest, leaving behind soil now thick with cinders and ash that can feed into the water supply.
“What has us concerned is, all of the run-off after this fire,” said Uldis Silins, professor of forest hydrology and watershed management with the University of Alberta.
“All the ash and some of the contaminants that are coming off the landscape when we start to get those rains, is going to be washing those materials into the river, right above the city of Fort McMurray.”
Silins, who is among several water scientists working with the Alberta government on a recovery plan for Fort McMurray, says the contaminated water will be difficult to treat, and could lead to widespread public-health concerns for evacuees upon their eventual return to the city.
Though rain would provide long-awaited relief to firefighters on the front line, it would be a double-edged sword for water treatment officials.
Spring showers can wash wildfire contaminants into the Athabasca River, which feeds Fort McMurray’s water treatment plant. And each rainfall would wash a new wave of toxics down the riverbanks.
Silins says roughly 30 km of the Athabasca River bank, and more than 100 km of the Clearwater River have been heavily contaminated so far.
“We have very limited experience with these kinds of large, severe wildfires, right on top of a community where you have a water treatment plant.”
As of Wednesday evening there is a 70 per cent chance of showers in Fort McMurray for Thursday.