The message of the Fort McMurray blaze

The wildfires that have been ravaging Fort McMurray area for more than a week are described as the costliest inferno Canada has ever seen.

The wildfires that have been ravaging Fort McMurray area for more than a week are described as the costliest inferno Canada has ever seen.

After a week of expressed desperation and alarm about the area the fire could ultimately damage, some optimistic comments have finally started to emerge from provincial government and the firefighters. But until all is over, it will be a great mistake on the part of everybody involved to get complacent and drop their guard against the possibility of circumstances changing once again to flame the fire to expand to an even greater area.

While it is still too early to count the costs and to start to make plans to rebuild what has been destroyed by the fire, there are some early conclusions one can draw, conclusions that we should be proud of.

First, the timely and orderly evacuation of a city with a population of about 90,000 people under the threat of a raging fire without a single loss of life is a remarkable achievement and all parties that have contributed to this success have to be congratulated. And here the credit goes not only to the public officials that have organized and implemented the evacuation, but also to the people of Fort McMurray, who have created no obstacles to the implementation of the hastily developed plans.

Secondly, primarily Albertans, but also all Canadians have shown an admirable sense of solidarity and compassion: By Tuesday morning, within only a week of the start of the wildfires, the total of private donations to Canadian Red Cross had reached $60 million, a figure which will be matched dollar for dollar by the federal government.

But even more heartwarming were the hospitality, supportive approach and willingness of the local communities close to the area being evacuated: In a short time, so much relief supply was collected and donated that officials coordinating the assistance to the evacuees had to urge people to stop giving/bringing/sending in kind assistance.

Thirdly, we have also seen the level of efficiency the country’s emergency services have mastered. Within only two days, firefighting capacity was raised to almost maximum and officials declared that after that point what they needed was rain only and not more firefighters or equipment.

These are all positive elements of a disaster that we can praise ourselves for.

However, while we are giving ourselves a pat in the back, we should also be mindful of the circumstances that led to this massive catastrophe and think with cool heads on how to ensure, if it can ever be done, that such calamities will not repeat themselves in the future.

The reason a reference was made to “cool heads” is that a debate has already started with climate change deniers saying this wildfire has nothing to do with global warming. Whether they agree or disagree with the thought that the size and scope Fort McMurray disaster is a direct result of global warming, the fact remains that the months of March and April 2016 have been the hottest on record.

Scientists went on TV to explain that increased temperatures are sucking up the moisture of all vegetation, preparing the ground for wildfires to quickly spread. Statistics also show that this year looks likely to be the fourth successive year of above average wildfires impacting Canada. With increased drought and heat, we might be headed for a loss of greater areas of forest, which is scientifically proven to negatively affect the precipitation patterns, meaning we will have less and less snow and rain, which, in turn, will further erode our ability to fight the kind of fires that are still burning in the Fort McMurray area.

Some scientists describe forests as the lungs of the earth. If we don’t take proper measures to ensure the health of those lungs, we will be choking our living environment to extinction, slowly but steadily.

Mustafa Eric, Editor