Breathe Fire! Revisiting the Fort McMurray Fire

Breathe Fire! Revisiting the Fort McMurray Fire
If there's ever been a lesson for humanity, The Fort McMurray fire of 2016 was ultimately the test, the lesson, and the grade. How do you save 88,000 lives when the flames of hell are licking at their heels?

Simple. In an orderly fashion, teamed with compassion, a network of selflessness in every aspect, control without panic, (an element of job training) and a vision to thwart the walls of a raging fire, and throwing every natural instinct and the kitchen sink at the dangerous wildfire heading toward the population. Enough cannot be said for the heroic efforts of the firefighters, police, emergency personnel, and town council who were dealing with an epic monster of unparalleled proportions. Honorable mention goes to the relentless spirit of inhabitants of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and what drove them in vast numbers, running, crying, and frightened from their homes only to return and start anew.

It should be mentioned that many people who work in Ft. Mac undergo intense mandatory, safety training. But just which page of the instruction manual prepares a person to face flames that are over 300ft tall and gunning for them. Is there a comprehensive video that teaches people in cases of emergency how to turn their backs on their homes, friends, and possession at a time when even the sun is engulfed in a wall of smoke?

Right now, we are faced with a pandemic, but this isn’t about Covid19, it’s getting enough airtime. We need a reminder, that not everything is bleak. Resurfacing this news story, the events of The Fort McMurray Fire is a reminder of what a community can achieve when it bonds amidst the struggle to survive.

Fort McMurray has a reputation, when, in reality, it deserves another. People live in this northern corner of Alberta to earn a living, just as people do elsewhere. Nestled among the arms of two winding rivers, the Athabasca and Clearwater, in the municipality of Wood Buffalo it’s an oil industry hub. The name Wood Buffalo alone should speak to its surroundings and history. First Nations Cree have been residents there long before deposits of oil were discovered in the now infamous oil sands. Cree saw a purpose for the oil as well and used the naturally occurring resource to waterproof their canoes. Slowly, early settlers and fur traders arrived, and Alexander Mackenzie, a famous Scottish explorer, who preceded Lewis and Clark by over a decade, recorded the oil sands for the first time in 1790.

Canadians flock to Ft. Mac to work. It is a city (more aptly an urban service area) of 67,000 residents, and many people work on rotating schedules and live in camps designed by big companies. Hence the 88,000 people who were faced with mandatory evacuation in May of 2016, when elements came into play that changed the lives of everyone.

The Fort McMurray Fire is noted in Canada's surprisingly long list of environmental disasters, but it should be said that it's the number 1 act to follow in a crisis. The question of what happened to cause this monumental fire that destroyed this entire community, including decimating 2400 homes and leaving an additional 2000 residents homeless, were factors that propelled the perfect storm. Of course, human hands are likely to blame in the cause, when Mother Nature showed the world its stripes, fangs, and claws.

The first flames were spotted 9.3 miles away from town when a helicopter passed over the densely wooded terrain. The previous fall and winter were unseasonably dry due to the cycles of El Nino. Adding fuel to the fire when record-setting temperatures breached 91F in May; remember this is the far north of Canada, which isn't synonymous with a tropical climate. Call to the stage the dry air mass which feasted on relative-low humidity, and stir in wind gusts of 45mph. Wham! That is a recipe for a perfect storm. What still lingers in the mind of many, was that Ft. Mac has two rivers and many believed that the fire would burn itself out at the river’s edge. Wrong. The flames jumped over the river, a distance of half a mile.

For a perspective of scale, the first flames were recorded on May 1 and ended up consuming a colossal 1,500,000 acres. They were only declared under control by July 5, 2016, and astoundingly not fully extinguished until Aug 2, 2017. That fire burned for an entire year.

But those are not the mind-blowing stats that this article aims to drive home. During the height of the scorching flames, this miracle remains, 88,000 people were evacuated. None died because of fire. That is an act of mercy seldom replicated on the pages of history. Sadly, two young people, traveling in a vehicle leaving the area, were killed. Emily and Aaron will always be remembered.

Thousands of people lost everything in that catastrophic fire, which made many grown men cry. Thousands of people also lost their jobs, acres upon acres of natural habitat fell victim to the raging fire, and thousands of people responded with an outpouring of kindness, generosity that allowed this community to get back on its feet, if not outright heal. Burns always leave scars.


Regardless of where people watched the ominous news from, most viewers sat with their mouths agape, their eyes wide in disbelief, and there wasn't a conversation over meals or coffee that didn't include the phrases, Ft. Mac and fire.

The miracle lies in the ashes of support Canadians lent to the evacuees of Ft. Mac. Donations of goods and supplies arrived en masse and were delivered on the wings of kindness. Once again, during this pandemic striking and infesting our country and every country, Ft. Mac has so much to teach us. Our lives, during these unprecedented times, aren't about feeding the selfish fever of the me-me-me syndrome. Certainly, over the next few months, proponents will ensure that our lives are going to be inconvenienced, and there will be lots of 'stuff' we'll have to make do without. Sadly, many more people will experience the loss of loved ones.

But times like these are about an opportunity to allow kindness and compassion to prevail. And pulling together when the walls of darkness surround us will light the way.
It's about #FortMcMurrayStr♡ng.
They are the teacher; we are the students. Let us excel and pass this lesson together.


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Content copyright © 2019 by Monika R. Martyn. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Monika R. Martyn. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Monika R. Martyn for details.