Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

'The Beast Continues to Burn Out of Control'

Climate
'The Beast Continues to Burn Out of Control'

The fire that the locals call “the beast" is back with a vengeance. Last week, the wildfire that ravaged parts of the tar sands town of Fort McMurray in Alberta seemed to have done its worst. But in recent days it has returned and headed to the tar sands camps north of the town, traveling at around 30-40 meters per second.

Thousands of tar sands workers are now under mandatory evacuation orders after a 665-bed camp belonging to Horizon Lodge Logistics, which was providing temporary housing, was completely destroyed by the fire.

The fire that the locals call “the beast" is back with a vengeance. Photo credit: EPA

By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had reached the edge of another camp: the Noralta Lodge camp, just a few kilometers east of Blacksand.

“It's so scary and intimidating," said one tar sands worker, B.J. Spears, in an interview Tuesday. “You just get on those buses and pray that you're headed away from the danger."

“It continues to burn out of control," Rachel Notley, the Alberta Premier admitted Tuesday, as the fire reached an area of 355,000 hectares, fueled by bone dry conditions and strong winds. “We expect fire growth in the area of many of these camps today," she added.

Tuesday the strong winds shifted the fire towards the vast Syncrude and Suncor Energy tar sands facilities, which are seen as more resilient to fire, in part due to the large deforested areas of the camps.

Suncor said it had begun shuttering its base plant operations as a precaution, saying in a statement it had “started a staged and orderly shutdown of our base plant operations" and its staff was being transported to camps further north.

Meanwhile, residents hoping to return to the main city of Fort McMurray are being hampered by the continuing threat of wildfires and chronic air pollution blanketing the city.

Earlier this week, the air quality index stood at 38—it is normally measured on a scale of 1 to 10. Remarkably, though, some 90 percent of the town remains largely intact although some neighborhoods have been completely destroyed. According to Premier Notley, there is still no timeline on when residents can return.

Meanwhile the leading eastern edge of the fire is now expected to cross the state border into Saskatchewan.

As the fire rages on so does the debate on whether the fires are the result of climate change. On a blog post earlier this month I quoted Mike Flannigan, a wildfire expert at the University of Alberta who attributes the increase in the number of fires to climate change, fueled this year by the El Nino.

There are others who agree:

“Based on what we know and in which direction the climate is going, yes, we can expect more frequent super fires," argues Marko Princevac, a fire expert at the University of California at Riverside. “There is scientific consensus that climate change will lead to much more intense fires, more dry areas."

We know that fire records in Canada and the U.S. continue to be broken. We also know we are seeing unprecedented warm temperatures over the last few months. We also know that the six worst fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred since 2000.

There is definitely reason to be worried.

There of course predictable climate deniers who continue to argue otherwise. The UK Global Warming Policy Foundation ran an article Tuesday, We Can't Blame Climate Change for the Fort McMurray Fires.

Others are arguing that now is not the time to apportion blame regarding climate. We should wait until the emergency is over. Some do not take this view, though.

One of the most powerful responses I have seen has been written by the independent journalist, Martin Lukacs, who lives in Montréal.

Writing in The Guardian last week he wrote: “These arsonists have a name and they're hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They're the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box."

He continued: “The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences. Yet in the fire's aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations."

He contended that the fossil fuel companies should “be footing the bill for the devastation." He also asked people to imagine the “resiliency, courage and generosity" that the people of Alberta have shown in response to the fires “being harnessed to lead the transition to a healthier, more just post-carbon society—helping prevent even more extreme weather to come. Imagine the rebuilding of Fort McMurray being not just a page turned on an unprecedented disaster, but the beginning of a new direction."

Maybe, in time, we can imagine a new direction. A place to start would be Alberta's climate plan, which is meant to be published at the end of the month.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Frequency and Intensity of Wildfires Across the Globe Fueled by Climate Change

Global Wave of Resistance to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Escalates

4 Reasons Why It's Time to Break Free

'Apocalyptic' Inferno Engulfs Canadian Tar Sands City

Air France airplanes parked at the Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport on March 24, 2020. SAMSON / AFP via Getty Images

France moved one step closer this weekend to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to fight the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A woman looks at a dead gray whale on the beach in the SF Bay area on May 23, 2019; a new spate of gray whales have been turning up dead near San Francisco. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.

Read More Show Less
Trending
A small tourist town has borne the brunt of a cyclone which swept across the West Australian coast. ABC News (Australia) / YouTube

Tropical Cyclone Seroja slammed into the Western Australian town of Kalbarri Sunday as a Category 3 storm before grinding a more-than 600-mile path across the country's Southwest.

Read More Show Less
A general view shows the remains of a dam along a river in Tapovan, India, on February 10, 2021, following a flash flood caused by a glacier break on February 7. Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty Images

By Rishika Pardikar

Search operations are still underway to find those declared missing following the Uttarakhand disaster on 7 February 2021.

Read More Show Less
Indigenous youth, organizers with the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipeline fights and climate activists march to the White House to protest against pipeline projects on April 1, 2021. Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Indigenous leaders and climate campaigners on Friday blasted President Joe Biden's refusal to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline during a court-ordered environmental review, which critics framed as a betrayal of his campaign promises to improve tribal relations and transition the country to clean energy.

Read More Show Less