Fort McMurray: One year later

Experts warn more needed deal with wildfire threat.

Experts warn it is only a matter of time before another community in Canada is ravaged by a sudden intense wildfire similar to the one that hit Fort McMurray.

And the insurance industry says governments aren’t doing enough to prevent destructive blazes before they happen.

In recent years, other big wildfires have caused extensive damage in Kelowna, B.C., and Slave Lake, Alta., or seriously threatened communities, including La Ronge, Sask., and Timmins, Ont.

“These were not one-offs. It is not a fluke,” says Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta. “It is going to happen again.”

Natural Resources Canada says climate change is expected to result in more frequent forest fires that have severe consequences. The area burned could double by the end of the century compared with recent decades.

Sylvie Gauthier with the Canadian Forest Service says a warming climate has already made forests in much of Canada drier than they used to be. Last spring was one of the driest in the Fort McMurray area in the last 100 years.

As temperatures increase, so will the risk.

“The expectation is it will grow in the coming years,” Gauthier says. “For a large portion of the boreal forest the fire season is also projected to be longer.”

Another factor is that more people” a major cause of wildfires along with lightning” are choosing to live, work and play in forested areas.

Governments already spend millions of dollars every year to respond to wildfires and help pay for damage.

But the Insurance Bureau of Canada says more must be done to prevent fires rather than dealing with the destruction afterwards.

Bill Adams, the bureau’s vice-president, says governments are spending more on measures to mitigate the threat, but it isn’t enough.

“Awareness is critical and at this point it is exceptionally low,” he says. “Unless we have a much higher level of awareness around this risk ” and prudent investments and action taken by federal and provincial governments and individual citizens ” it is likely that we will have another major damaging fire.”

Adams says measures should include creating buffer zones around communities and homes by removing trees and brush that could act as pathways for a fire. Builders should also be required to use less flammable roofing and siding material.

Adams says the fact no one died in the Fort McMurray disaster is astounding, despite more than 80,000 people being forced to flee and almost 2,600 dwellings being destroyed.

He says the evacuation’s success was partly due to there being a major highway leading out of the city, the relatively young age of residents and many people having some knowledge of safety from living in an oil industry community.

That might not be the case if a major fire were to threaten a more remote community with older, less healthy residents and fewer roads.

“That is why we are sounding the alarm as an industry about raising the level of preparedness and that starts with understanding the risk.”

Flannigan says governments should funnel fire prevention money to communities that need it the most.

Municipalities need to change how they plan development, such as not building homes and subdivisions right next to forests, he suggests. More attention also must be played to the threat that wildfires pose to remote indigenous communities that don’t have roads.

Flannigan believes the Fort McMurray wildfire is a wake-up call to governments that more needs to be done sooner rather than later.

“Sometimes to change our behaviour you need a few bloody noses. Well, we have had a few bloody noses, and it is time to change.”

Just Posted

VIDEO: Neighbours fought to extinguish Langley house fire

Firefighters arrived to find citizens dousing a blaze climbing through the walls of a Langley home.

Dear Santa: the Langley Advance presents local children’s letters to the jolly old elf

During the holidays, the Langley Advance will present letters to Santa. Here is the first selection.

#MeToo at work: Employers play a role in fixing culture of harassment

B.C. workplaces are getting ahead of being the next MeToo debacle, calling on experts to train staff

VIDEO: Hankering for a piece of Star Wars?

A massive Star Wars memorabilia collection is going on the auction block in Langley.

Car fire destroys vehicle in Langley

Firefighters doused a car fire that sent a lot of smoke into the air in Langley.

VIDEO: Recovering addict shares art and story to motivate others

A Langley City man spends time each day painting in McBurney Plaza.

Update: RCMP arrest domestic assault suspect west of Kamloops.

The RCMP Emergency Response Team made the arrest at around 4:30 p.m.

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

B.C. woman brain injured in crash as a baby gets $1.1 million in damages

Trial heard the woman was 16 months old, being carried by her mother when they were both hit

Family Christmas fun at Aldergrove’s Loft Country farm

The Loft Country children’s horse camp in Aldergrove is celebrating Christmas in a new way this year

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

VIDEO: 3 months later, rescued sea lion released back into ocean

The young animal was found in Campbell River three months ago

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

Most Read