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Wildfires Force 10,000 to Flee as Alberta Repeals Carbon Tax

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Wildfires Force 10,000 to Flee as Alberta Repeals Carbon Tax
Thousands of Albertans have evacuated their homes due to out-of-control wildfires. CBC News / YouTube screenshot

More than 10,000 people have been forced to evacuate as wildfires spread in northern Alberta, Canada's CBC News reported Thursday. Smoke from the fires has choked skies across the province, raising the Air Quality Health Index in its capital city of Edmonton to a 10+ Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported.


In an ironic turn, the fires prompted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to cancel a celebration of the repeal of the province's carbon tax, Canada's National Observer reported.

*This event has been cancelled so the premier can receive an internal, real-time briefing on the status of Alberta's wildfires," the government said in a statement reported by Canada's National Observer.

Kenney had promised to repeal the carbon tax and roll back other climate change policies in the April 16 general election. A bill to repeal the tax was the first his government introduced after gaining power. While the bill has not yet passed, fuel sellers were expected to stop collecting the tax at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported.

"Just hours later, the skies of Edmonton darkened with smoke from wildfires in the north of the province," the paper wrote.

Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna criticized the repeal and said she was working on a national tax.

"We know we're feeling the impacts of climate change. In Alberta, you have forest fires this year that have started earlier than before, major concerns about the impacts of these fires this year," McKenna said, as the Edmonton Journal reported. "We're going to work as quickly as possible to make sure it's no longer free to pollute."

The tax had charged Albertans an additional 6.73 cents per liter for gasoline and $1.51 per gigajoule of natural gas.

The current fires had forced around 5,000 to evacuate more than a week ago, according to Canada's National Observer. They continued to spread this week, as smoke forced even more people to flee their homes Thursday.

"We began the day yesterday with approximately 5,500 evacuees and we currently have over 10,000," Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said, as CBC News reported Thursday.

Officials said the Chuckegg Creek fire was spreading especially quickly.

"It traveled about 30 kilometers (approximately 18.6 miles) south yesterday between noon and four o'clock this morning, which means it was traveling at a rate of about 23 meters (approximately 25 yards) a minute," Christie Tucker from Alberta Wildfire said.

The Maria Lake and MacMillan Complex fires were also spreading and growing closer together. Dry, windy conditions made firefighting more difficult.

Fires destroyed 11 homes in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, the Edmonton Journal reported further.

"The roads are melted," Blake Desjarlais, director of public and national affairs for the Métis Settlements General Council, told the Edmonton Journal.

Desjarlais was frustrated by the lack of support his community was receiving from the Alberta government, Global News reported. He said they were not fighting the fire on the western side, which would most protect the evacuated community, and also that they were not doing enough to help evacuees.

Desjarlais also said the fire could have a long-term economic impact on the community.

"We've lost trap lines, they're a strong economic driver for us," he said, as Global News reported. "Most of the regional farmers have had to cut animals loose."

The impact of the fires hasn't been limited to Alberta. Smoke from the fires has contributed to cloudy skies in western Ontario, southwestern B.C. and the U.S. Midwest, Global News reported Thursday.

On Thursday, smoke covered Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City and reached as far south as Denver, Global News reported.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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