EDITORIAL – Shock and tears in Fort McMuray

by Jeff Burgar

That 80,000 people, more than the 60,000 people in the entire city of Grande Prairie, were evacuated from Fort McMurray with no loss of life [two were lost in a vehicle accident south of the city for reasons not yet known] is remarkable.

This, given that almost every day we read about calamities claiming tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of lives in natural or man-made disasters around the word.

Canada is not immune to disaster, man-made or natural. Fifty thousand died from Spanish Flu in 1918. Lac Megantic claimed 43 in 2013. There is a long list across the years, including losses to forest fires, which alone have claimed over 300 lives.

Recently, we’ve seen the Quebec ice storm, floods in High River, Red River, and Peace River. Fires in Slave Lake and other vicinities. Any could have claimed many lives, and didn’t.

Just a few weeks ago, this newspaper commented on plans, such as Emergency Disaster plans, that are diligently written up after extensive meetings and discussions. The finished plans are placed dutifully on a shelf, where they make a fine home for dust bunnies and the occasional bug that might come upon them.

No doubt, in the review of Fort McMurray, there will be things found that could be improved. There certainly were many listed in wake of the Slave Lake fire five years ago. While the facts were there, moving forward across the province has never been a highlight of any political action plan. Notably, due to old growth forest and a combination of factors from fire-fighting to weather to human nature, most of northern Alberta is likely to see more major fires in coming years.

As the quote goes, “In a long enough timeline, anything will happen.” The common rebuttal, “Sure you can plan for the worst, every day, but eventually it just gets to be too expensive.”

Realistically, pragmatically, and perhaps cynically, the middle-ground is insurance. Basically, pay a little every year to cover the expense of disaster if worse comes to worse. This, simply because the cost of almost perfect protection is seemingly unpayable.

Nobody wants a car accident, but they happen. Nobody wants to lose a home to fire, but it happens. When insurance isn’t enough, disaster relief and the innate kindness of most of the human race to others kicks in.

Slave Lake, with an economy devastated by people who left, never to return, and the destruction of over 400 homes and businesses, is on its feet again. The scars will never completely heal, from memories and possessions, to opportunities lost. Yet, the community is in many ways better than ever.

Fort McMurray is much, much bigger. No one can watch the videos and not feel some of the same fear as those escaping, and absolute amazement everybody got out.

Thankfully, as this is written, everybody did escape, or is safe. And, with hard work, generosity, and a bit of luck getting through these tough times in the oilpatch, Fort McMurray will be as big or bigger, and as good or better, than it ever was.

This is what people do.

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