This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Struggling Against The Fires of Hell

"What happens there [when wildfires occur as a result of human activity], and the driver may not be aware of what's going on, is little bits of organic material -- it looks like mud but there's a fair bit of organic material -- sticks to the muffler [of all-terrain vehicles tearing through the brush of a forest interior]." It heats and starts to smoulder and then you go over a bump and it drops off onto some dry fuel [detritus lying on the forest floor]."
"I'm guessing this will be probably around 100,000 kilowatts/metre. It developed its own thunder storm. This happens during high-intensity fires. It generated lightning that started new fires. It's the mother of new fires."
Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire, University of Alberta

"Winter's just finished and there hasn't been rain for two months."
"We threw the kitchen sink at it [the Fort McMurray wildfire]. Usually if you can catch them [wildfires emerging] when they're small enough, you can prevent them from getting larger. Unfortunately it doesn't matter how good  your firefighting force is, there are going to be times when Mother Nature just beats you, and this is one of those cases."
Chad Morrison, senior wildlife manager, Province of Alberta 

"That fire hit us, it was about three blocks wide, and it had 100 feet of flame coming at you. It's loud and it's coming fast. That's the only time I've ever seen something like that in my life."
"We're like, 'Oh man, it's going to roll over us real easy', because the wind's coming at us, too'." "[About 100 metres off where his team had soaked the tree line and nearby houses] it just kicked it right down. The huge rolling flame just calmed right down. There was huge smoke. We stopped the rollover [flames] on top of the trees. We never lost a house in that area."
Mel Angelstad, Suncor firefighter
Jerome Garot
Jerome Garot   Wildfires encroach on Highway 63 near Fort McMurray as citizens evacuate the city on 
May 3, 2016.

It was all hands on deck, not only the local firefighting contingent, and firefighters volunteering and being dispatched from surrounding areas and other provinces, but those hired by the oil patch to protect their oil-extraction installation investments, were also quick to respond to a wildfire that literally took everyone by surprise through its power, strength, resilience and determination to eat its way over, through and under whatever stood in its way.

Highway 63, the major, main and virtually only highway leading north and south out of Fort McMurray was solid traffic as 90,000 people were evacuated to escape the potential of physical harm resulting from the out-of-control wildfire that was consuming everything in its path. In the space of a mere few days, the residents of the town moved from trust that this was just another wildfire that might come a bit too close for comfort to realization that their property and lives were in real danger.

On Sunday, May 1st, a provincial wildfire agency helicopter on a routine patrol had spotted a fire estimated at that time to have been two hectares in size, about four football fields in size, at 4:00 p.m. A really hot day, this was, after a dry winter and spring. The wildfire had erupted at the very start of the region's fire season, and was around nine kilometres southwest of the city, near Horse Creek.

Fire-protection officials responded by an alert. Alberta has around 1,600 wildfires annually, 95 percent of which are brought under control in a space of a day or so. Once the fire was spotted, the helicopter dropped a four-person crew equipped with all the gear needed; pumps, hoses, chainsaws and axes to initiate a targeted response. The helicopter crew hooked a bucket to the helicopter to enable it to scoop up water from nearby sources to help dowse the fire.

Air tankers were called in for fire retardant mixed with water to be dropped over the fire, the first of which appeared on scene 45 minutes after the initial fire sighting. Another three joined them, and two added helicopters came along to help, placing a dozen firefighters at ground zero. Within two hours, despite that response, the fire had swelled to 60 hectares, and those fighting the blaze could be forgiven for believing they were losing the battle as soon as they had joined it.
Brian Cornforth
Brian Cornforth

Soon, in the 30C heat bulldozers worked overnight to clear trees for the creation of a fireguard, an open gap freed of trees meant to starve the raging fire of vital fuel. "Nine times out of ten, that would really knock down a fire", said wildfire ranger Kent Jennings. When he showed up with his crew to check out the barrier, they helplessly witnessed embers flying through the barrier on high winds, handily igniting trees on the opposite side.

Originally, evacuation orders had been issued for southern parts of the city. Then, 24 hours later the municipality issued a full evacuation order for people to immediately abandon their homes. The fire had doubled in size overnight, seizing on perfect conditions for it to leap from treetop to tinder-dry treetop, with the crown fire shooting out embers to begin new fires kilometres' distant, across the Athabaska and Hangingstone rivers.

People were desperate to escape the threat of a fire that now seemed to assume the proportions of total destruction, a force that seemed to be motivated by some malign order, pursuing them. Evacuation was taking place through a tunnel of wild towering hot flames with dense smoke reducing visibility to a near-blank state. This past Monday it was clear that the incredible work and expertise of the first responders had succeeded against what had seemed like odds stacked against them by a giant, unmoved entity of destruction.

Despite the loss of 2,500 homes and buildings, 90 percent of the city, including the downtown, had been saved. The fire had been persuaded by a combination of true grit on the part of firefighters, and serendipity on the part of prevailing winds and weather conditions, to veer away from the city and continue its rampage to the east. Two days ago the fire was estimated to be covering 241,000 hectares, burning its way toward the Saskatchewan border.

Still fighting that fire were  509 wildland firefighters, 31 helicopters, and thirteen air tankers.

Larry Wong/Postmedia News
Larry Wong/Postmedia News   Homes in Fort McMurray destroyed by a massive wildfire that forced 
the entire evacuation of Alberta's fourth largest city.

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