Officials in Fort McMurray, Alberta, continue to assess the damage caused by a massive wildfire that ripped through the area on May 3, resulting in a mandatory evacuation of more than 80,000 people. It’s the largest recorded wildfire evacuation and the third-largest recorded environmental disaster evacuation in Canadian history.
Fort McMurray, located about 460 miles north of Calgary and 260 miles north of Edmonton, lies in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands, surrounded by boreal forest. The fire reached the city on May 3, destroying approximately 2,400 buildings. By May 8, the fire covered 620 square miles. While it was feared that the fire would cross the border into neighboring Saskatchewan, due to shifting winds and favorable weather conditions the fire now burns about 31 miles from any community in that province. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his intention to visit the area on Friday May 13.
Earlier this week, Alberta Premier Notley toured Fort McMurray and announced that the area will need weeks of repair work before residents can return, though firefighters succeeded in saving 85% to 90% of area structures. While no injuries or deaths directly related to the blaze have yet been reported, there were two traffic fatalities during the evacuation. As of this writing, the fire’s cause has not been determined.
Todd Pruden, owner of Dreamline Promotions (asi/183394) in Fort McMurray, lost his home in the fire and has not yet been permitted to return to his building to assess any damage. He made the difficult decision last week to lay off his workers as the fire bore down on the city, telling his staff on May 3 to leave and find shelter. As of this writing, he still has no access to his building or orders, while his credit card continues to be charged for shipped product that he hasn’t yet seen.
Pruden said he and his family heeded the evacuation order on May 3, and drove to his mother’s house. By the time they had gathered a few personal belongings, the exit to the neighborhood was blocked by fire, forcing the group to cross an embankment to access the highway. “Her house did burn down, so it's good we didn't wait around and try to pack more things,” Pruden told Counselor. “I still have no idea if our building is still standing, or if there’s just smoke damage, or if it's untouched. We’re in Edmonton waiting for updates, and I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to hire everyone back. What will we go back to? There’s so much uncertainty right now. It’s really turned our world upside down.”
Nelson Escoto, vice president of Whiteridge (asi/97061) in Edmonton, said his two distributor clients in Fort McMurray, including Pruden at Dreamline, have been seriously affected by the disaster. “The effects are already being felt throughout Canada,” he told Counselor. “Fort McMurray is recognized internationally in the oil industry, and there are usually lots of workers in and out of there. Many people left in a panic, thinking they could come back in a few days. Now it’s going to be at least a month if not more before they can return and assess the damage. At the evacuation center at Lac La Biche, there’s been a huge influx of people and they need so many items. There’s definitely been an outpouring of support from Canadians.”
During Premier Notley’s tour on May 9, she announced that it would take officials approximately two weeks to develop a schedule for residents to return to the city. While many structures were saved from the blaze in Fort McMurray, analysts stated they will scale back expectations for Canadian economic growth in the coming months. Fort McMurray is located in the heart of Canada’s oil sands country, a region with the world’s third-largest oil reserves, and as much as a quarter of the country’s total oil production has been halted. It’s expected to be Canada’s most expensive natural disaster in its history.
Fortunately, industry companies are teaming up to help. Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627) has pledged its commitment to support all those affected via the RW x #YMM program. “This fire causes more and more devastation every day,” said Kathy Cheng, President of Redwood Classics. “We're going to do whatever we can to help our friends in Fort McMurray and are encouraging our network to join us by doing the same."
From now through May 31, 2016, the company will donate $1 from each item sold from its 16 oz. and 20 oz. fleece collection to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal. Distributors are asked to reference code #YMM on all purchase orders. Individuals can also donate to the Appeal directly at www.redcross.ca.