Thursday, 5 May 2016

Alberta Wildfires 2016

Alberta Wildfires 2016

Canadians' True Colours

In Peter Jackson's cinematic production of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there is a scene in the secret base maintained by Gondor in Ithilien, where Faramir (son of the Steward - a sort of regent) having captured the Hobbits Frodo and Sam, confronts them with the knowledge that they possess the One Ring of Power, crafted by the story's primary antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron.

A crucial line in the film is when Faramir, eyeing the ring, says, "A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality." In the Extended release of the film, it's a bitter callback to his remembrances of the last time he saw his brother, Boromir, alive. Their father, the Steward Denethor, throws the line in his face when he volunteers to go to Rivendell (not knowing that Denethor means to send Boromir there to retrieve Sauron's Ring).

In a sequence added for the film (that is, it's not part of the books), Faramir takes the Hobbits to the ruined city of Osgiliath, with the intent of bringing them back to Gondor itself, Ring in hand. After an attack by Sauron's armies and agents (the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths), Faramir is convinced by Frodo's behaviour and Sam's argument (especially as regards Boromir's fate) to release them, allowing them to continue their desperate mission: carry the Ring to the heart of Mordor, with the aim of casting it into the volcano where it was forged - the only hope of destroying it and overthrowing Sauron.

Sam makes a final reference to the "quality" line, saying, "Captain Faramir, you have shown your quality, sir - the very highest," in powerful contrast to its initial use by Denethor.

I refer to that whole character arc of Faramir as the lead-in to a discussion of how Canadians have had, through the disaster that has befallen northern Alberta, a chance to show their quality. And, like Faramir, they've shown it is generally the very highest.

The Wildfire

Here's the CBC's interactive portal on the wilfire situation.

Basically, a wildfire, which is believed to be of human origin, broke out on Sunday, and quickly grew to engulf the Fort McMurray region, forcing the evacuation of all the town's nearly 90,000 residents, as well as the residents of nearby towns.

CTV News shows that a significant portion of Fort McMurray has experience at least some property destruction as a result of the fires. As the inferno still rages, it's not yet clear how much of the city will remain, although if the Slave Lake wildfire of 2011 is any indication, there is some cause for optimism (if not for anyone whose homes or businesses are destroyed, of course.)

The Reaction
Leaving aside the government reaction - because you expect governments to pour resources in both to fight the fires and to assist the evacuees when events like these occur - the reaction across Canada has been overwhelmingly positive.

Westjet: Probably the largest domestic competitor to Canada's biggest airline, Air Canada, Westjet provided flights from the municipal airport and a nearby oilsands work camp's airstrip to evacuate residents, and in particular hospital patients.

Lac-Mégantic: The Québec town of Lac-Mégantic experienced its own disaster in 2013, when a train loaded with oil running through town exploded in the city centre. In many respects, Lac-Mégantic hasn't yet recovered. All the same, in solidarity with Fort McMurray, and in honour of the support they received during their own crisis, the residents of Lac-Mégantic have been collecting funds to support the Albertan evacuees.

Syrian Refugees: If there is any group of Canadians who can understand what Fort Mac's residents have gone through, it is the country's refugees from the ongoing civil war in Syria. And while they are not in a position to give much, they have stepped up to give what they can.

It's not yet clear how much has been raised thus far in support of the evacuees, but with a nationwide effort, ranging from personal efforts, to benefit concerts, to cash donations by unions and businesses, to banks offering relief on payments on mortgages or other debt instruments held by evacuees, to oilsands operators throwing open their work camps for evacuees, it's showing that Canadians are, for the most part, doing their part and then some. (The Red Cross reported it alone had raised $11 million earlier today.)

Final Thoughts
While the north of Canada has experienced major wildfires over the years, it seems to me that this is one of the first times a larger city (by regional standards) has been completely evacuated. (By way of comparison, Slave Lake's population is around 7,000.)

Given the likely increase in wildfire activity (see here for example), it strikes me that what happened in Fort McMurray is a harbinger of things to come.

Contrary to the odious gloating by some oilsands opponents, Fort McMurray is not now facing its own comeuppance for being at the heart of the tar sand complex - as if its residents had any choice in the matter. If nothing else, the lag time between carbon emissions and consequential climate changes means that Fort McMurray is reaping what global society sowed decades ago, before the tar sands were "a thing".

What that means, as climate change continues, is that we can unfortunately expect more Fort McMurrays as the years go by.

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