Worst fire since …?
Alberta is no stranger to forest fires, but they typically occur in remote areas and don't threaten property. Provincial officials haven't had a fire of this scale threaten homes since 2001, when a 116,000-hectare blaze near tiny Chisholm, Alta., destroyed 59 homes, sheds, garages and other buildings. "We've had large grass fires, big forest fires, but not hundreds of homes lost," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said. A 30-year political veteran, he said it was the worst damage he has ever seen. "It's very difficult to describe, if you haven't been here, the destruction," he added.
Is that it for the fires?
No. The two fires that threaten Slave Lake are still out of control and more than 100 others are burning across the province. They exploded in size Monday, up to a collective 22,000 hectares from 2,900 a day earlier. Weather conditions remain poor, with high winds and even forecast lightning, which starts 45 per cent of all forest fires. One oil-sands company shut down production as a precautionary move on Monday, with two others are considering the same. Meanwhile, fires burn to the northwest of Slave Lake, threatening a handful of small aboriginal communities and the site of a major oil spill. Work at the site stopped Sunday because of the blaze. "There's a lot of work left to be done," said Rob Harris, a spokesman for Alberta fire crews.
What about the evacuated people?
There are three emergency centres where people can stay. All had room available Monday night as the majority of evacuees have stayed with family. They will be eligible to apply for Canada's Disaster Recovery Program, a strict formula providing relief funds to municipalities and residents affected by disaster. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Stelmach spoke Monday, and the Premier hinted that he'll press for a review of the DRP rules to free up more cash for the people of Slave Lake. He said "traditional" funding alone wouldn't be sufficient. Families won't be able to return to town for at least a few days. Hundreds have no home to return to.
What are fire crews doing?
Helicopters were back in the air Monday, dumping buckets to keep the flames at bay. Along parts of the highway, the charred remains of trees are stained red by fire retardant dropped by water-bomber airplanes, which have flown only sporadically in the strong winds. On the ground, crews are cutting fire lines to try and halt the progression in certain spots. Altogether, however, the focus is clear - save what's left of Slave Lake. Elsewhere in the province, fires are burning out of control but aren't threatening homes and, as such, are receiving less attention.