'We're not out of the woods,' future uncertain for Fort Mac
Friday, May 6, 2016, 12:22 PM - The future looks bleak for Fort McMurray residents, with thousands in evacuation centres eager to return home.
During a press conference Thursday evening Alberta Premier Rachel Notley warned residents it could take a while before the city is safe to live in again. It is unclear exactly how long the wait will be and officials say it will not be a matter of days.
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"We recognize that the people of Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo who have been evacuated from their homes are eager to return home, but I must be very, very direct about this," Notley said. "It is apparent that the damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents at this time. Firefighters continue to battle a very dangerous wildfire."
The massive inferno which began Sunday has spread over 150,000 hectares, which is much larger than the size of Calgary, with an estimated 88,000 people displaced. The government has plans to find "transitional housing" for families who have lost everything in the blaze.
It is anticipated that the wildfire may end up being the country’s most-destructive natural disaster when it comes to cost, with one analyst from the Bank of Montreal speculating the fire damages could surpass $9 billion if the city and its infrastructure need to be rebuilt.
To put things into perspective, a similar fire in Slave Lake, Alberta in 2011 resulted in $750 million in damages, which was the most expensive fire-related disaster in Canadian history. In addition, the official population of Fort McMurray is about three times the size now that Slave Lake's was five years ago.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but officials say they are at the mercy of the weather, the only force powerful enough to stop this.
A professor of wildland fires at the University of Alberta, Mike Flannigan, believes the blaze was likely caused by humans due to the fire’s close proximity to the city and the lack of lightning in the area.
Each year about 1,200 wildfires are recorded in Alberta, with half of those caused by humans, according to the National Fire Database. Lightning is the second-leading cause with 47 per cent.
As of Friday, the heart of the fire is currently located south of Fort McMurray and is expected to continue to burn out of control for the next several days.
"We're not out of the woods yet," senior wildlife manager Chad Morrison told CBC. "We still have a long way to go."
Air tankers are not going to put out the blaze, Morrison added.
"This is an extreme fire event. It's going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain to help us. I expect this fire to continue to grow over the next number of days."
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