Fort McMurray Wildfire: Plan to Let Residents Back in Second-Guessed as Fires Push North

Estimates put the oil industry at a $1-billion loss, and more evacuations have been ordered as the fire moves north.
May 17, 2016, 8:59pm

Despite efforts from firefighters, the wildfire has no sign of slowing down. Photo via Dan Olson for VICE News

Two weeks after a wildfire that destroyed significant portions of Fort McMurray things are looking little better than they were at the height of the evacuations.

Aside from the nearly 100,000 people that have been displaced by the fire's seemingly unending growth, the town's main industry has been incredibly hard hit. Yesterday, a new report (written before the forced evacuation of an additional 8,000 oil workers) put the estimated cost of lost oil production at $1 billion—a number that is expected to grow as the fire now threatens more oil camps north of Fort McMurray.

While Alberta's oil industry has taken a hit, the international price of oil has gone up. Oil prices now top $48 US a barrel, and some estimates expect that the price of crude oil will eventually hit $50. This is due in part to supply shortages as companies like Suncor and Syncrude—two of the largest oil producers in the province—have effectively shuttered a number of operations due to the fire.

One 665-room oil camp, the Blacksands Executive Lodge, was destroyed.

The city of Fort McMurray itself, despite no longer being within the active fire zone, is still uninhabitable. With an estimated 2,400 structures destroyed (a number likely to grow as some structures have reportedly collapsed or exploded since then), many residents have permanently lost their homes and access to vital community services.

While the Alberta government is preparing a plan for residents to re-enter Fort McMurray on a temporary basis, there is currently no safe drinking water or electricity in the city, and Premier Rachel Notley says that safety remains a prime concern. In particular, reports of explosions in the city has the government second-guessing letting residents back in at this stage.

"The government of Alberta has been discussing a re-entry plan with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo," Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday, according to the Canadian Press. "Obviously, yesterday's events have caused us to take a second look at those plans. Safety will be and must be our first and principal priority."

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but preventative measures for future manmade fires have already been proposed. Alberta Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneli Carlier suggested that those who start wildfires should be hit with a $1 million fine, 200 times higher than the current $5,000 fine the government has in place.

"It's a good deterrent," Carlier told CBC. "I think that it's resonating with people. I think Albertans want to be safe, they want to keep themselves safe, their communities, their fellow citizens."

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