The Fort McMurray wildfire has entered its second week of devastation and fire officials say only a significant amount of rain will be able to bring the blazing inferno under control.
The raging firestorm destroyed at least 16,000 structures and forced more than 100,000 residents of Fort McMurray and surrounding areas to flee for their lives. But cooler weather and light rain during the weekend has prevented the conflagration from growing too much.
“The fire reached approximately 161,000 hectares as of 10:30 this morning. This is quite a bit smaller than we had feared,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley.
Still, a blaze of that size is bigger than Singapore, larger than Boston and Chicago combined.
Mike Flanagan, a professor of wildland fires at the University of Alberta, claims the fire’s nearness to the city and the lack of evidence of lightning strikes lead him to believe the fire was probably caused by humans. However, the professor admitted the dry and warm weather conditions of Western Canada created an abundance of dry leaves and wood which shaped perfect conditions for forest fires.
“Spring fires are common after the snow melts and before things green up and get lush,” Flanagan said. “There is a two- or three-week window where they occur.”
He said the biggest challenge at this point would be the shifting winds — which gusted up to 40 km/h on Tuesday — which can push the flames towards the cities. Fortunately, the weather has been cooperative and now the winds have begun blowing the fire away from the city.
About 1,100 firefighters have been battling the blaze and fire departments across the country have been offering their assistance.
“This is a beast of a fire and it needs the most professional fighters to contend with it,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. “This is a very serious, long-term recovery effort.”
Chad Morrison, a senior fire official in Alberta, said the fire will continue to burn for “weeks and weeks” in heavily forested but, thankfully, unpopulated areas.
Analysts claim the loss of insurance may amount to more than $9.3 billion.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Ben Nelms