It looks like something straight out of Armageddon. A wildfire has been raging out of control in northern Alberta, Canada all week. A few days ago the fire grew more than 8 times larger in less than 24 hours. It forced a sudden evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray, a city of more than 80,000 people. Residents were given little time to pack up and leave. The fire now covers an area larger than all of New York City and is expected to keep growing. It has already destroyed thousands of homes.
People evacuated as the fire closed in and cut off escape routes. There is only one main highway connecting the city to the more populated south. The evacuation route took motorists perilously close to the flames, which at times cut off the highway completely. Some 25,000 people on the north side of the city were cut off from the southern highway. They were all forced to take the one remaining route north out of the city as the fire burned around them. Residents spent hours waiting in traffic trying to get out as flames closed in behind them.
The fire is burning in the middle of Alberta’s oil sands region. This is the world’s third largest oil producing region. Several sites have been evacuated and oil prices are expected to go up as a result. This fire has become the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, with damages already calculated at several billion dollars at least.
Climate change is thought to be a key factor contributing to the fire. The region has been experiencing unusually high temperatures of more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This, combined with dry air, strong winds, and a prolonged drought has fueled the blaze. While temperatures have since cooled some, the fire continues to rage out of control. Authorities now say it could last for several months.
Featured image by DarrenRD – File:Landscape view of wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48561288