Photo: Fort McMurray wildfires

Photo: Government of Alberta — Alberta Wildfire Info

By Peter Robinson, CEO

Like many Canadians, we at the David Suzuki Foundation are following the wildfires in the Fort McMurray area with deep concern and sympathy for those who live there. It has been tragic and terrifying for the people of Fort McMurray, many of whom had to flee quickly, leaving all they've worked for to the consuming inferno.

Coming on the heels of an already difficult downturn in the oil industry, the wildfires were an especially cruel blow. It's a testament to the courage, kindness and community spirit of the people of the area — and the firefighters and rescue workers, along with local First Nations that stepped up to offer shelter — that the evacuation has been carried out quickly and carefully.

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During the first week of May, wildfires also raged through Saskatchewan, B.C. and New Brunswick, with Manitoba on high alert. Fires were also burning in Minnesota, northern India, Nepal and elsewhere. Fires in the boreal forest are not unusual. But temperatures as high as 33 C this early in the year are. The average early May high temperature in Fort McMurray is 16 C. Alberta had twice as many fires last year as its 25-year average, and fire seasons there and throughout many parts of the world are getting longer every year, with fires consuming greater areas.

Along with dry conditions from a lack of precipitation, and strong winds, the high temperatures in northern Alberta have fuelled one of the worst fires on record in the area. B.C. was unable to send firefighters to help because they're already fighting numerous blazes throughout that province.

Climate scientists have predicted for decades that global warming would cause extreme weather events to increase in frequency and severity, along with consequences such as droughts, floods and fires. We are all affected by these occurrences, no matter where we live. It's important to ensure that measures are in place to protect people from wildfires and other disasters, to support those who are facing crises and to make sure people are aware of ways to prevent fires. It's also important for governments, industry and citizens to live up to the commitments of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and reduce the causes of extreme weather and its consequences. We have a collective responsibility to help those in need and to reduce the frequency and chances of disaster.

For now, we should all do what we can to support the hard-working people of the Fort McMurray area as they deal with the devastation of this fire and as they rebuild in the future. One way to help is to donate to the Red Cross. The federal government has committed to matching donations from Canadians.

May 9, 2016

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Jun 12, 2016
12:10 PM

Is banding together and re-building Fort McMurray really what we need? The town is there only to exploit oil sands and re-building only affirms our commitment to continue down this destructive path.

While I understand the optics, I do wish this post had been a little more critical of the raison d’etre of the town and encouraged us to view this tremendously disruptive force of nature as a chance to pause and reflect before simply continuing along the same path that brought us here.

May 22, 2016
12:29 AM

When are the politicians and environmental naysayers going to learn that we cannot rape and pillage the earth forever? Something must be done, and it must be started now.

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