Canada, the shadow of climate change on the fires that are devastating Fort McMurray

A week after the fires started raging in Canada a city was evacuated, hectares of forest were destroyed and crude oil production was shut down.

Province of Alberta, Canada. The oil boomtown of Fort McMurray – where oil is extracted from tar sands – is deserted, has no electricity, water and gas, and is being besieged by wildfires. Its population fled because the flames are devastating the region.


Fort McMurray fire
Fort McMurray devastated by fires © Scott Olson/Getty Images


Fort McMurray registered a huge expansion thanks to a boom in the construction of crude oil extraction plants from tar sands, but it is estimated that the city won’t be brought back to its previous development level.


The state of emergency

The authorities declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, after that wildfires, started on 1st May, swept through the surrounding forests uncontrollably, even reaching the city.


Now, seven days after the fires broke out, authorities are becoming more optimistic, given that a fine drizzle and a a change in wind direction fanned the fire away from the residential area. But the state of emergency is anything but solved: 34 fires, five of which were wildfires, were still raging on Monday despite the work of 500 firefighters, 15 helicopters and 14 tanker aircrafts.


climate change fires canada
The shadow of climate change on fires raging in Canada © MCPL VanPutten, 3 CSDB Imaging /

Facts and figures of the disaster

The figures are alarming: wildfires burnt 161,000 hectares of land, 88,000 people were evacuated, 20 per cent of the town of Fort McMurray was destroyed, the production of crude oil from tar sands decreased by a million barrels a day. The Canadian insurance industry’s damage is estimated to be around 9 billion Canadian dollars (six billion euros). According to Reuters, this could be the costliest disaster in Canadian history.


evacuation alberta canada fires
Evacuation procedures for fires in Alberta, Canada © Cpl Rod Doucet, 8 Wing Imaging / DND-MDN Canada


The market trends will be affected by this situation too. It’s estimated that the disaster will halt the country’s economic growth in the second trimester, while the decreased production of crude oil has already contributed to increase the price per barrel by 2%. A number of pipelines and plants have been closed in advance and at least one plant is not operational because of smoke.

What caused the fires in Alberta

It’s not yet clear why the fires broke out and the authorities are planning to fly drones and aircrafts to see where the fire started. In any case, the shadow of climate change lies over the disaster with higher temperatures and lower rainfall than average in this season.


“It’s a black irony of having the Mecca of the Canadian oil industry go up in flames to a climate change-induced wildfire,” the site Vice reads, also recalling the 15 million dollars cut from wildfire management in last month’s provincial budget.


climate change fires canada
The shadow of climate change on fires in Canada © MCPL VanPutten, 3 CSDB Imaging / DND-MDN Canada

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