If you were to look at the oil and gas industry in Alberta as a body, Calgary would be the brain. It’s where the head offices are, and consulting firms for Shell, Imperial, Suncor and other oil and gas companies do most of the engineering and design work. Edmonton would be the muscle, providing the manpower and the logistics. If Calgary’s the brains, and Edmonton is the brawn, Fort McMurray is the heart.
If you live in Canada, you’ve probably heard of Fort Mac. The largest tarsands operations are in Fort McMurray, or close to it. Anyone who’s worked in the oil and gas field lives up there, has worked up there, or at the very least have designed or planned something in the area. It’s the little city that never sleeps. It’s a lot smaller than Edmonton or Calgary, but it’s just as well known. Working up there usually means twelve hour days, for stretches up to three weeks. For a long time, Fort Mac represented one of the last places you could get a solid job without a degree, where the working class person could get not only a job, but build a dream. That dream is going up in smoke. Literally.
An out-of-control fire has ravaged over 10,000 hectares and destroyed over 1,600 homes and buildings. For the 80,000 people who evacuated, many won’t have a dwelling to come home to. That’s what was speculated five hours before writing this, and the numbers are sure to go up when the final tally is taken and the fires are put out.
Right now there is a huge amount of love and support from around the country. People are donating money, and most importantly, their time. There’s also people soaking up some schadenfreude, saying the fires are the cause of climate change, snidely pointing and laughing at the misfortunes of other. There are those who are pointing out that, due to the mass layoffs in the oilpatch, it’s convenient this fire stuck a town mired in debt and foreclosure, that this could be a blessing in disguise for those who have lost their jobs. Insurance money will roll in, they assure, and those who were in a bind will have their shackles broken.
One meme in particular has been floating around, the picture of the oilfield truck blazing down the highway, with the caption “Don’t worry, Fort Mac! We are coming with tools, trucks, our trades. And we will rebuild!”. The sentiment is nice, but the logistics of this should be something to consider.
Compared to the Slave Lake fires of 2011, the Fort Mac fires are twice the size and have destroyed close to four times the number of buildings. Compared to the Calgary floods of 2013, the city of Calgary is situated in the middle of Alberta, along both the TransCanada and the Queen Elizabeth, while Fort Mac is five and a half hours from the nearest major city. When the numbers come back and the fires extinguished, how much of Fort McMurray will be left to rebuild?
Rebuilding takes money. Even though the the city, the province, and the country are strapped for cash, you can be certain the money will be found somewhere. Rebuilding takes people. There are a lot of people with the skills and the knowledge to make that happen. More importantly though, rebuilding takes time. The hard truth is the reconstruction of Fort Mac will take a lot more time than Slave Lake or Calgary. Simply due to the scope of the area impacted, and the location of the area itself.
If you want to help, the best way to do that is through donations. Right now you can text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $5, or you can text REDCROSS to 45678 to donate $10. If you are thinking about donating clothing, furniture, or household items, refrain from doing so. Too many items are often shipped, and often cause havoc for those organizing the fundraising.
To those throwing the political gauntlets, this isn’t the time to do it. Whether you’re trumpeting the governments’ success or their failures, we can judge them down the line. There’s still three years for both the federal and provincial governments, whether you like it or not. You’ll have plenty of time to place judgement regarding their handling of this crisis.
To those laughing at the irony regarding the possibility of Fort McMurray destruction due to climate change, just remember this; Climate change affects us all. It would be like deriding your foot for having cancer.
To those of you saying that this will be a huge payout from the insurance companies, I only have this to say to you; You have obviously never dealt with an insurance company.
To those witch hunting the former NDP candidate who tweeted the fire was ‘Karmic’, please stop. What he said was ignorant and childish, and trying to burn the man in effigy is equally ignorant and childish. Venting your anger and frustrations by trying to ‘get’ a man who said something stupid on a platform called ‘Twitter’ is a reminder of exactly what terrifies me about social media.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. Yes, I do have my own site now.
p.s.s. I have a friend up in Firebag, working at camp. Says it’s weird to have children running around and dogs barking in his wing.