Monday, May 16, 2011

Evacuation!

Hazy view down the Athabasca River Valley caused from fires north of Fort McMurray.





I was expecting an eventful work day yesterday as it was inventory time and I was due to put in a 12-hour day. Instead, we got a reminder of the force of Mother Nature. Inventory in fact was finished up before 5pm since we are so busy with shutdowns at Suncor there was no really good time to shut down the yard. Anyhow, shortly before 4pm or so I was in the office for a moment when I heard someone mention an explosion on the highway at the top of Super Test. (As is often the case with such events, I was bombarded with a lot of conflicting information...a tanker truck had exploded on the highway....the grass was on fire....a few trees were on fire....the fire was spreading and traffic was backed up for miles.) Okay, this last part about traffic being backed up on Highway 63 is really nothing new to anyone fighting to get on-site at the start of shift, especially early mornings. Anyway, there is a work camp operated by Suncor and I heard they were both being evacuated as a precaution.

The long and the short of it all was that Suncor was evacuated for safety precautions, right around the end of my shift as it so happened. We passed by the site of the fire (Highway 63 wasn't shut down as I had heard) just as a water-bombing helicopter flew over and released its load. I actually didn't see any flame, just a great deal of smoke. The latest I've heard was the blaze wasn't all that large, a mere 150 hectare, and while lying 17km outside the city, no real threat to Fort McMurray at that point.

Fast forward to this morning and I catch wind that the nearby community of Fort McKay may be under some sort of evacuation notice with a 2000 hectare fire nearby which also prompting the closing of the CNRL and Firebag sites as well as a few roads into the back country. All this pales in comparison to the devastation brought on by forest fires down in Slave Lake.

So far this fire season has gotten off to a pretty dramatic start. And I suspect that with brush that is already tinder dry and a predicted hotter-than-average May, June and July that this could be a very interesting and challenging summer here of the forest fire front.

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