City-Threatening Wildfires — The North’s New Climate Future

That great roaring sound you’re hearing may just be another 3.6 billion dollar climate disaster…

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Reports are in and it’s official — the Fort McMurray Fire was the costliest disaster ever to impact Canada. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), claims of damages for the massive Alberta wildfire have now topped 3.6 billion dollars. That’s worse than the Alberta floods of 2013 at 1.8 billion dollars (ranked third), and worse than the great Quebec ice storm of 1998 which inflicted 1.9 billion dollars (in 2014 dollars) in damages.

Pyrocumulous cloud

(Fires in northern regions and within the Arctic are now so energetic that they often produce pyrocumulus clouds — like this one which was thrown off by the Fort McMurray Fire.)

CEO Don Forgeron of IBC stated that the damage from the fires provide “alarming evidence” that extreme weather events have increased in frequency and severity in Canada. And that’s especially true for wildfires — which are being worsened by a climate change driven warming. The added heat is lengthening the fire season in Northern Latitudes even as it is generating temperatures that are inhospitable to trees that have adapted to live in much cooler climates. It’s also thawing the permafrost — which adds more peat-like fuels for fires to burn.

The Fort McMurray fire erupted under these new climate conditions and under temperatures that were 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) above average at the time of ignition. It forced the entire city of Fort McMurray to empty. It resulted in the evacuation of 90,000 people, the (darkly ironic) temporary shut down of various fossil fuel production facilities, and leveled 2,400 structures. Many more structures were damaged due to smoke or falling embers. In total, more than 27,000 property claims were filed.

Dozens of massive wildfires Siberia

(Dozens of massive wildfires burn through Central Siberia on July 7th of 2016 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 220 miles. These kinds of events, according to Greenpeace, burned 8.5 million acres last year in Russia. It’s a new climate context that is turning northern regions into a fire hot zone and it’s not at all normal.)

Unfortunately, this fire is unlikely to be a one-off event. Year after year, an Arctic warming at 2.5 to 3 times the rate of the rest of the globe pulls heat northward. Earlier thaws and added fuels combine explosively with swaths of dead trees killed by rampaging invasive species that have arrived from the south. No northern or Arctic nation has been untouched by the extreme fires. Alaska, Canada, and Siberian Russia have all seen extraordinary and massive fires during recent years. Fires that throw great pulses of heat and burning debris high into thunderheads of flame called pyrocumulus clouds. A word that climate change has now added to the popular lingo.

Links/Attribution/Statements:

LANCE MODIS

Last Damage Estimate For Fort McMurray Fire 3.6 Billion

The Climate Context For the Fort McMurray Fire

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Fort McMurray Fire — Zero Percent Contained, 1.2 Million Acres in Size, and Crossing Border into Saskatchewan

The Fort McMurray Fire just keeps growing. A global warming fueled beast whose explosive expansion even the best efforts of more than 2,000 firefighters have been helpless to check.

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By mid-afternoon Thursday, reports were coming in that the Fort McMurray Fire had again grown larger. Jumping to 1.2 million acres in size, or about 2,000 square miles, the blaze leapt the border into Saskachewan even as it ran through forested lands surrounding crippled tar sand facilities. It’s a fire now approaching twice the size of Rhode Island. A single inferno that, by itself, has now consumed more land than every fire that burned throughout the whole of Alberta during 2015.

animation_may_18

(Continued explosive growth of the Fort McMurray Fire shown graphically in the animation about. Image source: Natural Resources Canada.)

The fire has now encroached upon five towns and cities including Fort McMurray, Anzac, Lenarthur, Kinosis, and Cheeham. Tar Sands facilities encompassed by the blaze include Nexen’s Kinosis facility, CNOOC’s Long Lake, and Suncor’s Base Plant. Numerous other tar sands facilities now lie near the fire’s potential lines of further expansion. You can see the insane rate of growth for this fire in the animation above provided by the Natural Resources board of Canada.

Fort McMurray Continues to Prepare For Residents Return Despite Terrible Conditions

As the fire again expanded this week, reports coming out of Fort McMurray showed periods of horrendous air quality. Measures hit as high as 51 on Wednesday — which is five times a level that is considered ‘unsafe.’ Fires also ignited in a condo complex Thursday after a mysterious explosion claimed another Fort McMurray home on Tuesday. Embers falling from nearby large fires may have been the cause, but officials have so far provided no conclusive ignition source. For safety, emergency responders again shut off gas utilities in the city. Officials put on a brave face despite all the continued adversity, claiming that efforts to ready for a return of people to their homes were progressing.

Fire at Zero Percent Containment

Despite what is a massive firefighting effort, the enormous blaze remains zero percent contained. Firefighters have seen some success, however, in keeping fires from burning buildings in and around Fort McMurray through the constant application of water and through the building of enormous defensive fire breaks. With many trees near Fort McMurray and tar sands facilities already consumed by fire and with winds expected to shift toward the North and West, the blazes are expected to mostly move away from structures by Thursday evening. A welcome relief after fires on Tuesday and Wednesday burned down worker barracks in the tar sands production zone.

Fort McMurray Fire Thursday

(Massive pall of smoke visible over Fort McMurray Fire in Saskatchewan and Alberta. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 250 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

With cooler weather and a 60 percent chance of rain today, fire conditions may abate somewhat. Rain predicted on Saturday could also aid in firefighting efforts. However, it is likely that this massive fire will continue to burn over Alberta and Saskatchewan throughout a good part of the summer.

Conditions in the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

Fossil fuel burning is the primary source of the currently extreme carbon emissions that are now fueling the wrenching climate changes and increasingly severe wildfires in Canada. And such burning will almost certainly push 2016 to new record hot global temperatures in the range of 1.3 C above 1880s values. These new temperature extremes have contributed to a combination of factors including a comparatively rapid warming of Canada, permafrost thaw, tree death, and strong ridge formation that have all lead to a greater potential for dangerous wildfires.

Fort McMurray itself now sits firmly under a northbound flow of airs invading the polar region. Such powerful meridional flows feature much warmer than normal air temperatures and heightened risk for drought and wildfires. These zones have formed over recent years due to a weakening of the Jet Stream — which has been set off by sea ice loss and an assymetric warming of the High Arctic. Such polar amplification has also set off permafrost thaw, aided in pine beetle expansion northward toward and into the Arctic zone, and generated temperatures hotter than the range in which boreal forests typically survive and grow. Permafrost thaw combines with tree death to produce added fuels for fires even as warming provides more lightning strike ignition sources. This combination of global warming related factors has resulted in large wildfires occurring in the Arctic at 10 times their mid 20th Century ignition rate and is aiding in a greatly increased risk of fire throughout the boreal forest zone.

Links:

Fort McMurray Fire Crosses Border into Saskatchewan

LANCE MODIS

Natural Resources Canada

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Beast Growls — Warming-Induced Wildfire Again Doubles in Size, Burns Tar Sands Workers’ Camp

On Monday, strong southerly winds and freakishly hot temperatures near 80 degrees (F) combined to fan the still-raging Fort McMurray Fire in Alberta, Canada. The monstrous, climate change enhanced, blaze swelled. And by the end of the day it had expanded to cover more than 354,000 hectares, 1,360 square miles, or an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

In a little more than a week, a fire that emergency response personnel are calling ‘The Beast’ had once again doubled in size.

The Beast Growls

(The Fort McMurray Fire again exploded on Monday — invading tar sands facilities even as the eastern sections of the fire came to within 7 kilometers of the Saskatchewan border. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As the fire expanded, it swept north and east. Casting off choking, dense smoke, the fire spiked air quality ratings to 38 (a 10 is considered dangerous), forcing emergency response personnel, workers, and those few people now inhabiting the blackened town of Fort McMurray to wear particulate filtration masks. The bad air quality caused some officials to speculate that the return of more than 80,000 residents to the town could be delayed. The evacuees had been forced from their homes by the fires during early May — a wave of climate change refugees that have now faced a three week period of dislocation. But any thought of residents returning was swiftly overwhelmed by the rapidly-expanding fire itself.

8,000 More Evacuations, Oil Worker Camp Burned

As the town of Fort McMurray choked in the smoke of resurgent fires, walls of flame moving north and east again threatened tar sands facilities. Firefighters scrambled to widen fire breaks as fires moving as fast as 40 kilometers per hour leapt defensive lines and entered some of the industrial sections.

Ironically-named Travis Fairweather, a wildfire information officer, described the completely untenable situation:

“Yesterday the fire was showing extreme behaviour and lots of smoke in the air. We had to pull the firefighters off the line because it was so dangerous out there.”

The entire industrial zone fell swiftly under threat and by late Monday more than 8,000 tar sands workers from a total of 19 camps had been ordered to evacuate. By Tuesday morning, the Blacksand Lodge — a temporary residence for oil workers manning tar sands facilities located 35 kilometers to the north of Fort McMurrary — had succumbed to the flames. A large facility, the Blacksand camp provided 665 residential units for workers. In total, it’s estimated that about 6,000 workers remain in tar sands facilities and emergency responders are coordinating to organize an air evacuation if necessary.

Fort McMurray fire extent May 16

(Fort McMurray Fire extent with hotspots as of early Monday on May 16. The region affected by the fire as of this time was truly vast — stretching nearly 50 miles long and 30 miles wide. Through late Wednesday, the massive blaze is likely to again claim more ground. Image source: Wildfire Today.)

Fire Situation to Remain Extreme on Tuesday and Wednesday

Southerly winds and far above average air temperatures are again expected to worsen fire conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Highs are predicted to hit near 80 in Fort McMurray on both days and dry conditions are expected to dominate. So continued rapid growth of the McMurray Fire over this period is likely. With fires now on three sides of the industrial zone and within sections of the tar sands facilites, we can expect a continued threat to the oil production zone over at least the next 48 hours.

Long range forecasts indicate that warmer than normal conditions are likely to continue over the next week. However, rainfall predicted on Thursday and Saturday could again slow the fire’s growth — giving firefighters another shot at containing this massive blaze. It’s worth noting, though, that the fire is now so large and intense that it will likely take weeks to months to extinguish.

Extreme Fires in the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

Overall, more than 530,000 hectares have now burned throughout Canada. This total is more than 24 times the amount of land consumed in fires by this time last year. During the 20th Century, large May burn extents of the kind Canada is experiencing during 2016 were unheard of. For much of Canada — May tended to be a cool month featuring temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s (F). Not the 70s and 80s (F) that have tended to crop up so frequently this year. Fires tended to be sparse and small — if they ignited at all. But the heat, a growing number of dead trees, and a thawing zone of carbon-rich and flammable permafrost have all added to the fire danger. Evidence that a very rapid pace of warming and related damage to Canada’s forests is having an extraordinary and dangerous impact.

Over the coming seven days, abnormal 60-70 degree (F) temperatures are expected to expand throughout even the far northwestern regions of Canada — reaching all the way to where the Arctic Ocean meets the Mackenzie Delta and spiking fire hazards within that thawing permafrost zone. Such huge extents of extreme fire hazard over northern and far-northern regions that typically experience much, much cooler weather is a feature that is absolutely consistent with effects resulting from human-forced warming. A warming that continues to be made worse by the extraction of carbon-based fuels like those unearthed at the tar sands facilities now endangered by the very fires of climate change they helped to ignite.

Links:

Notely Addresses Extreme Conditions Facing Fort McMurray Firefighters

On a Scale of 1 to 10 Air Pollution, Fort McMurray is a 38

Map of Tar Sands Facilities Forced to Evacuate by Fort McMurray Fire

LANCE MODIS

Canada Interagency Fire Center

The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name

Wildfire Today

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Redsky

Trudeau, Canadian Media Mum as Threat From Climate Change Induced Wildfires Grows

To say that this spring has produced an insane, unprecedented early start to wildfire season in Canada would be a monster understatement. In fact, the area of land burned over Canada is now 22 times greater than for the same period last year.

Nearly 2000 Square Miles Have Burned in Canada So Far — And It’s Not Even Summer Yet

By this time (May 16) last year (2015), during the start of what was then one of the worst fire seasons in Canadian history, a total of about 23,000 hectares of land had burned. This year (2016), a total of about 500,000 hectares (1930 square miles) had burned by the same day. That’s about 22 times more land burned than during the same period last year when fire season started abnormally early and ultimately burned much, much more than average.

wildfires burn across northwester Canada

(Wildfires burn across Central and Northwestern Canada on May 15 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot. Hotspots , indicated by the red dots, in the image are visible in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Massive smoke plumes swirl over the region, drifting either north toward the thawing Arctic or south toward the United States. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 700 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

And this year, for the first time in Canadian History, a monster wildfire has forced the emptying of a city of 90,000 people — destroying 2,400 structures, damaging another 500 more, and threatening the infrastructure of the tar sands mines. An unconventional fossil fuel facility that Dr. James Hansen has called ‘one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.’ A hothouse carbon extraction zone the size of Florida that has greatly contributed to the force of the fires that are now threatening the lives and livelihoods of people across Canada.

The massive extent and city-engulfing nature of these fires is evidence-in-plain-sight that a human-forced warming of the planet is taking a ridiculous toll on the forests and infrastructure of Canada. And the threatening of the tar sands facilities themselves by the new, uncanny fires has been called a black irony by those of us who’ve fought so hard to prevent global climate disasters that are now flaring up with increasing frequency and force. For evidence of ‘the arsonists of Fort McMurray’ sprawls as a ruination of a once-beautiful forested region just north of the burned city itself. There, the very fossil fuel industry that lit the fires of climate change now raging across the North, has constructed a vast carbon extraction and burning effort. Stripping the Earth bare in a great wasteland that is clearly visible in even the low resolution shots captured by satellites passing far overhead.

Stripped and barren lands of Canada's Tar Sands

(The stripped and barren lands of Canada’s tar sands as seen from the LANCE MODIS satellite on May 15th with the Fort McMurray Fire continuing to encroach from the south. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 55 miles.)

The fact that Canada, under Steven Harper and related governments for the past two decades, has cast its lot with this destructive industry is plainly visible — not only in the wasted landscapes and dying and burning forests — but in that country’s stunned and inadequate responses to a disaster that it has largely contributed to. In light of this fact, one would be hard-pressed to find the words ‘climate change’ printed in the mainstream Canadian media. And any statements exploring what is now an obvious link between the tar sands industry and what is an ongoing and increasing fire emergency are also notably absent.

In contrast, much has been said about rebuilding. About getting the climate-destroying tar sands production back on line. And Justin Trudeau — who was elected on a public mandate to do something about the increasing harms caused by human forced warming — has basically betrayed the trust of this broad constituency by first attempting to shame those concerned about climate change into silence and then refusing to answer questions on the issue of climate change over the past few weeks.

Trudeau, and much of the Canadian media at large, seem to be treating this disaster in isolation. To be pretending that this disaster is a fluke. And to be blithely ignoring a trend of worsening fires due to warming that is as clear as the blazing hot skies over the Canadian Northwest. A behavior that runs directly in line with climate change denial. And a behavior that is putting a growing number of Canadian citizens directly into harm’s way.

Fort McMurray Fires Resurgent

While morally-compromised Canadian politicians rest on their laurels and fail to commit to an energy transition that is imperative to the safety of global civilization, the Fort McMurray Fire itself has once again grown to new intensity. Over the weekend, temperatures in Alberta again spiked to record warm ranges as dryness set in. These conditions, combined with moderate winds to stoke the fires which once more erupted — filling the skies of the tar sands production region with the smokes of Nature enraged.

Fort McMurray Fire May 15

(The Beast again grows larger in this May 15 LANCE MODIS satellite shot. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 65 miles.)

Fires again drifted northward — expanding around the southern flank of the tar sands production facilities. And an ominous cloud of a tell-tale steely gray hangs over the fossil fuel production zone itself. Meanwhile, to the south, a broad fire-front continued to run out and away from the Lake Gregoire region. Further to the east, fires are expanding toward the Alberta border with Saskatchewan as the closest hot spot has flared within 11 kilometers of the demarcation line. And once more, large pyrocumulus clouds appear to be billowing up into the baked Alberta air.

In total, this immense fire is now about 250,000 hectares in size (965 square miles). Having grown 90,000 hectares (350 square miles) since last weekend, the blaze, which many now call The Beast, has over the past seven days expanded by 60 percent. The fire now shows every sign of exploding once again despite an intense effort by more than 1,000 firefighters.

Over the coming week, high temperatures in Alberta are expected range from the upper 60s to middle 80s. Meanwhile, extreme heat is predicted to expand over most of Northwestern Canada with 70 degree readings reaching the Arctic Ocean’s shores.

North America weather forecast

(Heat builds as fire danger for Canada again spikes during the week of May 16 to May 22. Readings in the 70s and 80s are expected to cover a broad swath of Central, Western, and Northern Canada with 70 degree readings stretching all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

There has been practically zero coverage in the broader Canadian Media — over the past two days — about what in the satellite analysis and in the coming forecast appears to be a fire situation that is again worsening and growing more dangerous. The Canadian Fire Agency and the weather forecasters have duly reported the risks. But the media response has been ominously and irresponsibly silent. In contrast, most sources continue to report as if the crisis is over and winding down. As if there aren’t still four months of fire season ahead. And as if human-forced climate change isn’t turning the boreal forests and permafrost zones of our world into a very dangerous fire-trap. Meanwhile, 2016 fire dangers are on the rise, not only for Alberta and Fort McMurray, but for almost all of Central and Northwestern Canada.

UPDATE 10:30 PM, May 16: As of Monday evening, news reports from Bloomberg indicated that the Fort McMurray Fire had again grown — this time swelling to 1,100 square miles (285,000 hectares) or about the size of Rhode Island. Winds from the south up to 25 miles per hour and abnormally hot temperatures caused fires to swell as they moved northward. By afternoon, one blaze had approached to within a kilometer of an Enbridge transportation hub, forcing the evacuation of another 4,000 workers from that tar sands facility. Firefighters worked to widen fire breaks protecting the terminal as emergency personnel considered spraying down equipment to keep the wildfire from spreading into it.

Fort McMurray Fires Monday

(Fort McMurray Fire expanding as it spread northward toward tar sands facilities on Monday, May 16. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Updated reports also indicate that nearly 2,000 personnel are now involved in combating Alberta wildfires. Heavy smoke emitting from the flames contributed to terrible air quality conditions (nearly four times worse than levels considered harmful) leading to recommendations from officials that people avoid the Fort McMurray and the surrounding area.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Canada Interagency Fire Center

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA’s Hansen Explains Decision to Join Keystone XL Protests

The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name

Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change

Can Justin Trudeau See the Forest Fire for the Trees?

Besieged by the Fires of Denial

Fort McMurray Fire Nears Enbridge Terminal Near Tar Sands Facilities

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Monster Fort McMurray Fire Slowed Sunday by Light Rain — Despite Progress, Officials Expect Blaze to Burn for Months

“I’ve never seen anything like this. No-one has ever seen anything like this fire, the way it started, the way it spread, the way it traveled. We will be rewriting the book on fighting these fires, this fire will force us to rewrite the book” — Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen in a News Conference this afternoon.

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On Saturday, the Fort McMurray fire rapidly expanded — threatening the greenhouse gas emitting tar sands facilities north of town and making a race toward the Saskatchewan border. But by Sunday, cooler temperatures and very light rain in some areas (with accumulations of less than 1 mm), helped to stymie what, until that time, was an entirely uncontrollable blaze.

Fire’s Northward Expansion Halted Before Tar Sands Facilities Were Significantly Damaged

Fires ran directly to the boundaries of the Nexen tar sands facility. But heroic efforts by firefighters stopped the blaze there and prevented all but minor damage to structures and to large vessels containing volatile compounds. In total, the massive firefighting effort — now undertaken by more than 500 personnel — was able to check the northward advance of the flames on Saturday. By Sunday and Monday, a shift in the winds toward the west and northwest again drove the fires eastward.

Fort McMurray Fire Map

(The Fort McMurray fire has grown to more than 16 times its original size. Northwest winds continue to push its expansion toward the Saskatchewan border. Cooler weather and very light rains helped slow the fire Sunday. But with no rain in the forecast until May 23rd and with more warm weather on the way, fire conditions may again worsen this week and on into the next. Image source: CBC News Live Updates.)

Current active large fires near Fort McMurray are about 16 miles to the south and west of town between the Athabasca River and Route 63, near the shores of lake Gregorie, and across the Clearwater River just to the north of the Fort McMurray airport. Though still somewhat threatening, overall fire activity in the area is the lowest since Tuesday of last week. Further to the east, large fires continue to burn toward Saskatchewan and, with winds expected to blow off and on out of the northwest over the coming 5 days, it’s likely that this massive blaze will expand outside the borders of Alberta. To this point, the fire edge is now less than 18 miles away from Saskatchewan and winds are still blowing at moderate strength out of the northwest.

The Damage Assessment Begins — No Word on When 90,000 Climate Change Refugees Can Go Home

Overall, officials are reporting that 161,000 hectares have burned so far (or about 620 square miles). Since Tuesday, the area consumed by the flames had grown explosively to roughly 16 times the fire’s original size. Cooler conditions this week should help to keep explosive growth in check. However, by Thursday and Friday, temperatures are again expected to warm — generating an increasing fire hazard for later this week. In addition, weather forecasts call for little to no chance of rain until May 23. So the region is expected to continue to experience extraordinarily dry conditions — conditions that helped contribute to the extreme fire hazard in the first place.

Smoke plume from Fort McMurray Fire Reaches US East Coast

(The vast Fort McMurray Fire has produced an immense smoke plume that has traversed Canada, crossed the Northern and Central US and is now entering the airs over the Atlantic Ocean off the US East Coast. Image source: NOAA.)

Sunday and Monday’s lull in the blaze has allowed officials to begin to take stock of the extreme and extensive damage around Fort McMurray. In addition to the 1,600 structures destroyed by the blaze, many, many buildings were reported damaged. Fort McMurray’s electrical system is completely knocked out — with emergency facilities running on generator power. The city’s water supply — though continuing to flow from the city’s still intact water treatment plant — remains unsafe to drink. Officials will begin releasing photos of the destruction over the next two days and have warned of ‘dramatic images.’ As for the nearly 90,000 people made into climate change refugees by this blaze, there is still no word on when they will be able to return home. And considering such extensive damage and a still active and dangerous fire ranging the region — that answer could be weeks to months (find out how to help the fire victims here).

Impacts to Fort McMurray’s and Canada’s tar sands industry has been notably substantial. In total, more than 1 million barrels per day of oil production is now off line and is expected to remain so for about a month — even if the blaze does not re-emerge to threaten tar sands facilities. In addition, firefighting officials expect it to take months to get this massive fire completely under control. Even with the cooler conditions and very light rains Sunday and Monday, intense hotspots and very strong fire fronts are still expanding outward from the burn scar zone.

Widespread Large Fires in the Upper Latitude Regions of the Northern Hemisphere are Conditions Consistent with Human-Caused Climate Change

Conditions consistent with human-forced climate change remain in effect for Fort McMurray and for most of Northwestern Canada. In total, nearly 150 fires now rage throughout this Arctic country and in Alberta alone an army of more than 1,500 firefighters are now battling 32 wildfires including the Fort McMurry blaze. In British Columbia, 79 strongly active wildfires have completely absorbed that region’s firefighting resources. And on the Ontario-Manitoba border near Winnipeg, a fire exploding to 40,000 hectares has forced more than 125 people to flee and sparked a massive firefighting effort as that blaze grew four times in size since Friday.

Winnipeg Fire with Hotspots

(Another very large fire — now 40,000 hectares in size — threatens the region near Winnipeg. As of Monday, more than 125 people were forced to evacuate due to the rapidly expanding blaze. Above we see this fire along with hotspots as seen by the NASA-MODIS satellite sensor. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Around the world, wildfires are now erupting in northern regions and permafrost zones along the Mongolia-Russia border and in the area of Lake Baikal — which has suffered from a decadal drought and very severe warming. As May progresses into June, we can expect this fire zone to creep northward — eventually involving much of the permafrost zone itself. And, to this point, a powerful Arctic heatwave will bring with it increasing risks of fire to Alaska and the Northwest Territory as temperatures are expected to rise up to 30 degrees F above average (into the upper 60s and lower 70s F) there later this week.

Overall, human-forced climate change caused by fossil fuel burning greatly increases the frequency and intensity of wildfires by spreading heat and drought into regions where vegetation is unused to such conditions. In Arctic countries like Canada, new fuels come from thawing permafrost which forms a combustible peat-like layer and creates conditions where the ground itself can burn. Such heat and thaw has contributed to much larger wildfires which have become ten times more prevalent in the Arctic since 1950 and as the world has warmed by more than 1 C above 1880s averages. Continuing to burn fossil fuels will further intensify these already extreme conditions. One need not point out that this is the first time an entire Canadian city has been forced to evacuate due to wildfires. But with climate change starting to come into full force, such instances are far more likely to happen again and again — not just in Canada, but around the world.

Links:

CBC Live Fire Updates

Fort McMurray’s Fires and the Dramatic Images to Come

Oil Prices Tumble as Traders Reassess Fort McMurray Fire Impact

Fort McMurray Weather Forecast

Earth Nullschool

NOAA

Warm North Pacific Winds to Usher in Brutal Arctic Heatwave this Week

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

Water Bombers Bring Relief to Expanding Fire Along Ontario-Manitoba Border

The Age of Alaskan Wildfires

LANCE-MODIS

How to Help Fort McMurray Fire Victims

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Cate

Shift in the Wind May Push Gargantuan Fort McMurray Fire Toward Tar Sands Facilities on Saturday

The Fort McMurray Fire is now so vast that it has both burned through and completely surrounded the city, its airport, and the neighboring community of Anzac 31 miles to the south. Spinning out blazes in a long tail across the green forested land of Canada, the fire now appears to cover about 40 miles of distance and 10 miles of width at its longest and widest points. A secondary fire to the northeast of the main blaze also appears to have lit off. And by the end of Saturday officials now believe the fire could cover an area the size of Rhode Island.

Fort McMurray Fire May 6 v2 NASA

(Fort McMurray Fire as seen from above in the May 6 NASA/LANCE MODIS satellite shot. This huge fire now covers an approximate 10×40 mile swath of land, is throwing off numerous pyrocumulous clouds, and has spawned a secondary large fire to the northeast. In the upper left hand corner of the image above we see the bald landscapes of tar sands facilities. Smoke plume analysis indicates that the northern extent of this monstrous fire is just 3 miles to the south of the nearest tar sands facility in this shot. For purposes of scale, bottom edge of frame is 60 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Viewing the massive scope and extent of the blaze, one can see why an evacuation convoy of 1,500 vehicles — composed of members of the fire response team and a number of stranded evacuees from the tar sands industrial zone — was unable to flee the region earlier on Friday. BBC News reports indicated that the convoy encountered walls of flames 200 feet high and was forced to turn back to a city that finds itself surrounded with walls of flame on every side. This was the second time in two days that the evacuation convoy attempted to leave the fire zone and the second time that all ways out were found to be blocked by the fires. Thousands of people remain stranded in the fire zone to the north of the blaze and officials say it will take four days to move them once a clear pathway out is found

RCMP reported that by late Friday a third attempt from the convoy, now swelling to 2,500 vehicles, finally made its way south away from the fire zone. This attempt succeeded after encountering very dense smoke and making multiple stops through the burn scar region. Emergency evacuation leaders were concerned about fires encircling the evacuation convoy as it progressed. But fortune prevailed and the train of cars, trucks, and emergency response vehicles made it through. About three more days will be required to move the rest of the evacuees if a clear path out can be found, according to RCMP statements. (For more information on how to help those displaced by the fire look here.).

Hot Winds to Drive Fire Toward Tar Sands Saturday

GFS model forecasts indicate that temperatures will rise into the mid 80s Saturday. Yet another day of record hot readings for a climate change baked Canada. Winds are shifting toward the south. And very dry conditions will continue to worsen the already extreme levels of fire danger. With the fire now burning very close to the Athabasca oil production facility — a section of the tar sands that was evacuated yesterday due to fire encroachment — it appears that these winds will likely drive the fire toward and, possibly, into that industrial section.

Fort McMurray Fire Expansion Map

(Fort McMurray fire expansion map produced by the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo and the Natural Resources Center of Canada shows the freakish rapidity with which the Fort McMurray Fire has expanded. Today, a similar northward expansion toward the tar sands industrial zone is possible.)

Over the past few days, this fire has shown an ability to move very rapidly — covering many miles of ground in just a short period. And officials estimate that the blaze could expand to an enormous 300,000 hectares (750,000 acres or nearly 1,200 square miles or an area roughly the size of Rhode Island) on Saturday. Trees surrounding the barren strip mines of the tar sands facilities provide abundant fuel for these fires and volatile chemicals produced in the facilities add an additional severe hazard. The tar sands soil is laced with bitumen — which is not typically concentrated enough to burn. However, the extreme heat of these fires may cause some of the more concentrated zones to smolder — adding to potential fuels and fire hotspots.

To this point, the biggest concern is over what may happen if the fires do get into the oil facilities. The chemical and gas facilities in the tar sands are among the largest and most volatile in the world. Many single storage units contain enough explosive compounds to generate multi-kiloton scale blasts if their container vessels are breached. And a few facilities are capable of generating enormous explosions. The Nexen Long Lake oil extraction site is one of these. And officials note that, if this particular site were to explode, it could produce a devastating blast capable of leveling trees and structures in a 14 kilometer radius. If this understanding of the officially stated estimate is correct, then it would roughly be equivalent to 30-40 million tons of TNT going off.

“We’re looking at a blast area of about 14 kilometres if that plant were to go,” said Sgt Jack Poitras in an interview with BBC at about 7:00 AM Saturday.

Fort McMurray Weather

(Southwest winds and temperatures in the 80s will worsen fire conditions on Saturday — creating a risk that the Fort McMurray fire will sweep into the tar sands production facilities. By Sunday, another front brings with it the potential for rain — which may help firefighters contain the blaze. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Given the predicted weather conditions, the available fuels, and the extraordinary scope and force of the ongoing conflagration around Fort McMurray there is risk that fires will invade the tar sands production zone on Saturday. It’s also worth noting that Arctic and Northern Latitude wildfires like the Fort McMurray Fire have had a tendency to burn for a long time during recent years — lasting for many days and sometimes weeks. Adding to the tree fuels, the ground provides its own set of ignitable materials in fires so large and so hot as this one. The top layer of soil contains old leaf litter, organic material and deadfall — a layer about three feet thick that will burn in the most extreme blazes. This region of Alberta also contains deposits of discontinuous permafrost. During recent years, these permafrost zones have thawed more and more with the advance of global warming. Permafrost is carbon rich and produces its own peat-like fuel which can burn and smolder over very long periods. And there is concern that the new fires produced by climate change over Canada may serve as a mechanism for permafrost carbon release.

Record heat and climate change, therefore, provide an explosive combination of new fuels and added ignition sources for fires like the one that is now engulfing so much of this tar sands production zone. And as bad as these fires have been over the past week, Saturday may see the situation again worsen.

After the heat and dangerous wind shift on Saturday, Sunday brings with it cooler conditions and a return of northwesterly winds. Earlier forecasts had indicated a possibility of rain as well. But very dry air in the region is suppressing cloud formation and chances of precipitation are now near zero for Sunday and on through at least the next week. With such a large and hot-burning fire — rain is really the best hope that firefighters have of getting this enormous blaze under control anytime soon.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Canadian Wildfire Halts Evacuation Convoy

Fort McMurray Fire Updates

Earth Nullschool

How to help Fort McMurray Evacuees

Fort McMurray’s Fire to Double in Size

Canada’s Huge Fires May Release Carbon Locked in Permafrost

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat Tip to Vic

Hat Tip to Redsky

(Frequent updates please hit refresh for the latest)

Besieged by the Fires of Denial — Fort McMurray Blaze Grows to Overwhelm Anzac, Shuts off 640,000 Barrels per Day of Tar Sands Production

The simple fact of the matter, a fact that many invested in a destructive oil industry do not want to now face, is that a fire whose early-season extreme intensity was fueled by human-caused climate change is now doing what Canada would not. It is shutting down oil production in the tar sands — one of the highest carbon fuels on planet Earth.

Increases in fire frequency due to climate change

(Increases in fire frequency due to climate change as predicted by model runs are illustrated in the map above. According to a report at WeatherUnderground — “A large increase in fires over much of the globe is expected as we move through this century. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, researchers found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity [due to climate change] over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century.” Image source: Climate Change and Disruptions to Global Fire Activity.)

There are other facts that need to be faced as well. One is the fact that Fort McMurray’s residents have had their lives put at risk by a new kind of fire that is now much more likely to occur. A kind of event that will tend to emerge with a rising frequency and intensity. One that is increasing the risk of harm to those living throughout Canada, throughout the Arctic and throughout much of the world.

It’s a tough truth to face. One that many Canadian politicians confronting the impossible task of balancing the demands of oil-based economic interests with the very clear need to mitigate climate change are having difficulty coming to grips with. But one that must be seriously looked at and not ignored by anyone concerned for the safety of those living in Fort McMurray or anywhere else. For unless the greenhouse gasses from the burning of fossil fuels like the tar sands stop hitting our atmosphere, then these kinds of events will just keep getting worse.

We are already starting to see terrible wildfire events of the kind we have never before experienced emerging in the Arctic and in sections of Northern North America. And with the world now 1 C warmer that 1880s averages, large Arctic wildfires are now ten times more likely to occur. In Alaska — a region that shares climate trends with Canada — the length of the fire season has grown by 40 percent since the 1950s.

Across the globe, the story is much the same. Heating of our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is increasing fire frequency and intensity. A point that even conservative IPCC projections have been attempting to impress upon policy-makers since the early 1990s (see graphic above). And, in significant part, this rising danger has been contributed to by the tar sands fuels Fort McMurray’s energy industry was designed to extract.

Large Arctic Wildfires are No Longer Rare

(A study by Climate Central last year found that warming in Alaska had resulted in a lengthening of the fire season by 40 percent and that the pace of large fire generation had increased by tenfold [x10]. It’s worth noting that climate and foliage in Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories are very similar to those in Alaska. And increasing fire intensity and frequency due to warming in Alaska is also impacting the Canadian fire regime as well. Image source: The Age of Alaskan Wildfires.)

Despite the risky and harmful policy choices driven by the fossil fuel industry in Canada, we should not be callous to the loss and dislocation many within the tar sands production zone are now enduring. It’s a tragedy. Plain and simple. Thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods. But we should not allow ourselves to be blinded to the reality of the situation simply due to the fact that it is an oil community, this time, suffering from the ravages of extreme climate conditions. For thousands of Canadians are now joining a growing pool of climate change refugees. Victims of and, some of them, contributors to a catastrophe born out of an oil-industry spread hubris and blindness. An event that shines a light on the continued and increasing risks posed by tar sands extraction and on the vulnerability of that harmful fuel’s economic underpinnings to the very climate forces it is now starting to set loose.

Rapidly Expanding Fire Forces Airport and the Anzac Community 31 Miles Away From Fort McMurray to Evacuate

Fort McMurray Fire approaches Airport

(Pyrocumulus — a storm cloud forming from the heat updraft of an intense fire. A word that will start to enter common usage as human-forced climate change makes powerful fires more and more common. Here we see a massive pyrocumulus approaching Anzac and the Fort McMurray Airport on Wednesday. Image source: Sean Amato’s Twitter Feed.)

Wednesday, as firefighters scrambled to protect the Fort McMurray city center and northern outliers, a massive fire besieging the city boiled and grew. Held back from its north-bound progress into neighborhoods along the Athabasca River, toward the barren tar sands extraction area, and into the water treatment plant by firefighting efforts, the fire swelled as it retreated. Turning to the south and east, it began to encroach upon the city’s airport even as one of its offshoots exploded toward the well-populated suburb of Anzac 30 miles to the south.

There, an emergency operations center had just set up after being forced to move from its downtown location when a rain of embers cast out from the pyrocumulus cloud looming over the city set its roof to smoldering. The new operations center was well away from the projected northbound path of the blaze. And officials had some reason to believe the recently-moved center would be safe. A southern evacuation center — housing hundreds of people now rendered homeless by the fire — was also set up in the area.

Anzac fire beneath towering pyrocumulus

(Fort McMurray Fire invades Anzac beneath a towering pyrocumulus Wednesday evening. Image source: Emily Metrz’s Twitter Feed.)

By Wednesday afternoon, the airport, the Anzac community, the newly moved emergency operations center, and the evacuation center all fell under the shadow of a swelling pyrocumulus. A great storm of smoke, ash and burning embers thrown up from the heat of the blaze beneath. All in this area were forced to evacuate (a good number for the second time in as many days) as the huge cloud grew and the fires advanced.

As night fell, smoke shrouded the airport — blocking it from view. And many firefighters already knew the community of Anzac would be lost.  Sean Amato tweeted this message Wednesday evening as the fire advanced — “Firefighter [says], ‘Anzac is f**cked. We can’t fight that. We have no bombers. Get out now.'”

Fort McMurray fire map May 5

(Thermal fire map provided by NASA on Thursday reveals the extraordinary extent of the fires and burn scars as of May 4 — covering around 10,000 hectares. By May 5, this zone had vastly expanded to 85,000 hectares. Image source: NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

By Thursday, a massive area stretching from the airport to Anzac had been abandoned to the fire. Greatly adding to the 10,000 hectares the huge blaze was estimated to have burned as of noon Wednesday by expanding the fire more than 8-fold to 85,000 hectares — an area six times the size of San Fransisco or more than 300 square miles.

Tar Sands Production Shut-in

At this point, fires had displaced so many workers and crippled so much infrastructure that tar sands production in the region came to a grinding halt. As of early Thursday morning more than 640,000 barrels per day of the climatologically volatile synthetic crude had halted. Representing more than 16 percent of Canada’s crude production, the fire-forced cuts were significant enough to drive oil prices in the global markets as high as 46 dollars a barrel in trading early Thursday. More production shut ins were likely with other major tar sands extractors scrambling to slash oil flows as the Fort McMurray blaze became ever-less predictable. Near Anzac, the southern extent of the fires threatened a 30,000 barrel per day Conoco Philips tar sands production facility in the Surmont region — forcing a production halt and the evacuation of all tar sands workers.

Fort McMurray Fire approaches Tar Sands May 5

(LANCE-MODIS satellite shot of Fort McMurray Fire on Thursday, May 5 shows the fire expanding toward tar sands extraction facilities. For reference, tar sands operations are pit mines plainly visible as brown, bald areas in the image above. Most of Fort McMurray is covered by the smoke plume. Bottom edge of frame is 60 miles. Image Source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By late Thursday afternoon, the passing MODIS satellite revealed a very large fire whose northern extent appears to have reached within 3-5 kilometers of the southern-most tar sands facilities. The western edge of the Fort McMurray fire expanding to feature a 10-15 kilometer front creeping along to the north and west. The southern and eastern edges of the blaze remaining obscured by what is now a very large smoke plume. One that is likely now visible in the skies over northern and central states of the US.

A Long Battle Ahead as Temperatures are Predicted to Remain Much Hotter Than Normal

A wind shift to the north along with the influx of cooler temperatures on Thursday may help firefighters gain some progress. Conditions over Fort McMurray today were cloudy with 10-15 mph winds out of the northwest and temperatures around 64 (F). However, little to no rain fell over the area as a front swept through this morning. Meanwhile, thermometer readings are expected to climb into the middle 80s again on Saturday with very dry conditions taking hold.

To this point, it is only May — not July when such extreme fire weather would typically be possible. Average temperatures for Fort McMurray tend toward the upper 50s or lower 60s this time of year. So even today’s readings of 64 F are warmer than usual with temperatures predicted to rocket to 20-25 F above average again by Saturday. Given this trend, and given the fact that it will grow still hotter and drier in the months ahead, it looks like Fort McMurray — a city in the grips of the hard climate consequences it helped to create — is in for a long, rough fight.

Links:

Climate Change and Disruptions to Global Fire Activity

The Age of Alaskan Wildfires

Here’s the Climate Context for the Fort McMurray Wildfire

The Impact of Climate Change on Wildfires

Raging Wildfire in Canada Fuels Oil Prices

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

Sean Amato’s Twitter Feed

New Evacuations in Fire-Stricken Fort McMurray

LANCE-MODIS

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

“Please Get Us Out” — Hothouse Wildfire Threatens to Engulf Tar Sands City of Fort McMurray, 88,000 Evacuated, 1,600 Structures Burned

Emergency situation now ongoing in Fort McMurray, Alberta where a massive wildfire in this northern climate zone is engulfing the city. This is a very dangerous developing situation that includes hundreds of structure fires and what is now the largest evacuation in the history of Alberta — the first time an entire Canadian city has ever had to evacuate due to a wildfire. Frequent updates to follow (refresh page for new updates).

(BBC report on the latest news from Fort McMurray.)

Conditions Consistent With Climate Change Fan Massive Fire Invading City Made by Tar Sands Production

Monday, a massive wildfire began to encroach upon the City of Fort McMurray, Alberta — a region of Canada known for its production of the hothouse gas emitting tar sands. An emission that has almost certainly contributed to increasing fire danger to the city during recent years and decades as tar sands crude is one of the highest carbon fuels now in production (See: IPCC — How Climate Change is Worsening Wildfires).

The McMurray Fire slowly expanded over the weekend under unseasonably hot and dry conditions. It surprised fire officials by jumping the Athabasca River on Monday night and, with a switch in the wind toward the southwest, began to approach and invade northward into the city on Tuesday. By early evening Wednesday, the fire still raged out of control — swelling to more than 10,000 hectares as more than 1,600 buildings fell victim to the flames.

Reporter Reid Fiest in a tweet at 12:05 PM Wednesday briefly described what is now a city under existential threat:

The catastrophic wildfire is 10,000 ha and resisted all the suppression efforts. Today’s weather could cause explosive conditions.

And by 2:37 PM, fire activity within the city had become so intense that the roof of the Fort McMurray emergency operations center began to smolder and those working within were ordered to evacuate.

Extreme Temperatures in Northwest Canada

(It was hotter in Northwest Canada Tuesday than it was in the Central US. Extreme heat related to human-forced warming that contributed to a dangerous developing fire situation in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The southerly winds and hot airs fanning such explosive conditions ran up behind a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream pushing temperatures into the upper 80s and lower 90s (F) — readings that are about 30-35 degrees (F) above average for this time of year — over a broad swath of Northwestern Canada on Tuesday. The heat-baked air wrung out moisture and drew humidity readings into the very dry 20 percent range. Similar extreme fire conditions continued into Wednesday — with temperatures in Fort McMurray hitting a very unseasonal 87 degrees — as the fire now burns through the city proper.

Clouds of My Grandchildren over Fort McMurray

Pyrocumulus cloud over Fort McMurray on Tuesday. Clouds of this kind can form in the strong updraft zone of powerful wildfires. During recent years, pyrocumulus formation over the Arctic and other northern regions during spring and summer has been very intense and widespread. A climate change enhanced phenomena that could rightly be called ‘The Clouds of My Grandchildren.’ Image source: Randy Vanberg.

To the north, a very early recession of sea ice in the Beaufort and an opening up of waters there likely assisted this Jet Stream anomaly, a related strong high pressure system, extreme high temperatures, and hot southerly winds that pushed fire conditions in Alberta to unprecedented levels. The south winds, far, far hotter than normal temperatures and very low humidity contributed to a very dangerous situation fanning flames as they encroached upon and invaded the city — burning structures, igniting oil fires and forcing motorists to abandon their vehicles. All while a massive pyrocumulus cloud expanded — casting a dark shadow and dumping soot over this bitumen-laden region of Alberta.

For this region of Canada, these are highly abnormal conditions consistent with weather pattern alterations forced by human-caused climate change. “This (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime,” noted Mike Flannigan a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta who was cited in a report on the climate context of the McMurray Fire on Wednesday.

All Fort McMurray City Residents Ordered to Flee

As of latest reports, all of Fort McMurray’s city proper has been placed under mandatory evacuation orders. That makes for a total of more than 88,000 people evacuated so far. Including outlying suburbs and migrant residents, the city likely is home to a total of more than 100,000 souls — a good number of whom will also be forced to leave. A fire-driven evacuation of this size — basically resulting in the mandatory emptying of an entire city — has never occurred before in the history of Alberta. And the odd nature of this event is magnified by the fact that a very large early May fire — a period when fire activity is typically far more quiescent — is the cause.

Please Get Us Out

(Abasand resident pleas for assistance as fires encroach.)

Many residents, like Jenine in the tweet above, had to scramble to vehicles as fires approached their neighborhoods on Tuesday, spurring some to turn to social media in order to plea for assistance. The proximity of the flames was so close that many residents were unable to bring any personal belongings. With the entire city being ordered to evacuate, both lanes of Highway 63 were used for outbound traffic. Even so, motorists remained stuck in gridlock or stop and go traffic and were forced to drive through billowing smoke and along beside the raging fires. Some vehicles stalled in the hot winds or simply ran out of gas — leaving highway 63 strewn with empty cars, trucks, and buses.

The flow of evacuees has been driven northward ahead of the fire. Emergency shelters have popped up all along route 63 with many tar sands workers hunkering down in camps within the hothouse fuels extraction zone itself. A region that may also fall under threat by the fire.

The closest tar sands facilities are located within 16 miles of the city center. However, fuels for the fires in the form of trees run right up to the edge of the industrial zone and southerly winds expected to continue through late morning on Thursday may drive the flames closer. After that time, a front sweeping in from the north should shift the wind direction to northwest — pushing the fires away from these facilities. Currently, the possibility of the fires affecting these facilities is low. However, both Shell and Suncor have now suspended operations — presenting a brief silver lining to an, overall, terrible situation.

Huge Mobilization Underway, But Much of the City May Succumb to the Fire

Firefighters, who early on Tuesday acknowledged the severity of the situation, are now scrambling to deal with numerous very large blazes raging throughout the town. Social media imagery now shows images of gas stations, stores, and homes being burned or left in ruins by the fires. As of current reports, more than 1,600 structures been destroyed by the flames. By 2:28 PM Wednesday, these included 70 percent of the homes in Beacon Hill, 50 percent of the homes in Abasand, 90 percent of the homes in Waterway, and about 60 other homes and additional structures lost throughout other sections of the city. Unfortunately, given the severity of the situation, the number of burned structures is likely to grow as Wednesday progresses into Thursday.

NASA Shot of Fort McMurray Fire

Large active fires running north of a huge, 15 kilometer, burn scar. Satellite shot of Fort McMurray Fire and burn scars posted in the NASA twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon.

Considering the massive pall of smoke covering Fort McMurray and the fact that firefighters have been overwhelmed by the intensity of the fires — leaving many structures to burn — the situation has run completely out of control. National officials are scrambling to allocate more resources to attempt to abate what is a very difficult and dangerous inferno. A national emergency has been declared and an outpouring of assistance and resources is now aimed in the direction of Fort McMurray. Reports as of Wednesday afternoon indicated that there were 250 firefighters on the ground in the fire zone with more on the way. And by evening a number of defensive fire breaks appear to have been cut in an attempt to control the blaze’s expansion.

However, with numerous other fires now raging throughout Canada and with fire conditions at extreme levels over such a large area, at least one province — British Columbia — is already at the limits of its fire suppression manpower and was unable to provide aid to Fort McMurray. As a result, Alberta officials are now coordinating with national and military firefighting forces as fires continue to expand through the city and along the Athabasca River.

Conditions in Context — More Tar Sands Burning Generates More Wildfire Risk

It’s true that the people of Fort McMurray have suffered enough from this disaster and that the people of Canada and the world should do their best to help them in their hour of need. However, one cannot look at the situation truthfully without taking into account the impact of the Canada’s tar sands upon what is now a broadening climate crisis.

For years and decades now, IPCC has been warning that increasing greenhouse gas emissions and related rising global temperatures will result in increasing, expanding, and extreme wildfire hazards. The region of Northwest Canada is particularly vulnerable due to the influence of sea ice melt on the local Jet Stream pattern and due to the fact that many plant species in the region are ill-adapted to warming temperatures making them far more vulnerable to wildfires. In addition, permafrost thaw in the Arctic zone provides peat-like fuels that add to the fire risk. An issue where the ground itself burns.

Failure to view the current crisis in Fort McMurray in the context of global temperatures that have now exceeded 1 C above preindustrial averages and in the context of a failure to halt tar sands extraction is a failure to view the situation realistically. Much talk has been made of getting Fort McMurray’s tar sands industry back on track. But it’s the tar sands that have greatly contributed to the intensity of the dangerous fire that is now threatening that city’s very existence. And it’s the tar sands that will produce far-flung harmful impacts affecting so, so many other cities around the world. Will Fort McMurray respond to their hour of need by finding a better way of doing business? Or is it all just still denial and doubling down in a way that hurts just about everyone involved?

(Best hopes and prayers to everyone involved in this terrible situation. Please stay safe and stay tuned to official broadcasts for updated information on fires and evacuations.)

Links:

Fort McMurray Homes Destroyed as Wildfire Forces Mandatory Evacuation Orders

Fort McMurray Residents take to Social Media as Situation Intensifies

Jenine’s Twitter Feed

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

Canadian Fire Danger Map

Fort McMurray Area Updates

It’s Apocalyptic. No Way out But North.

Here’s the Climate Context for the Fort McMurray Wildfire

Alberta Burning

Randy Vanberg

NASA Twitter Feed

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Mike Crews

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Redsky

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

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