The worst year on record was 2016, when the Fort McMurray wildfire in northern Alberta pushed out more than 88,000 people and resulted in $3.8 billion in insurable losses. According to the 2018 census for the Wood Buffalo region, which encompasses several affected communities, the population decreased by 10.7 percent between 2015 and 2018, largely attributed to the fire, dubbed “The Beast,” as well as Alberta’s economic downturn. (Alberta was hit with an oil and gas–related economic recession shortly before the fire. Natural disasters amplify economic malaise, experts say.)
“Even when you're in one of the best places in the world, you’re still vulnerable.”
Amy Cardinal Christianson, a fire scientist with CFS, said there are already examples of displaced evacuees in Canada opting to stay in their host communities rather than return home. “There’s a lot of Indigenous people who are more urban now… So you have these small, rural, remote communities and they’re losing people to larger urban centres. Those people are losing that tie to their land and culture, and so it can be devastating for the community to go through,” said Christianson, who is Métis.
“You really have to fend for yourself.”