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Thousands told to evacuate due to British Columbia, Canada wildfire

Reuters Smoke rises from mutual aid wildfire GCU007 in the Grande Prairie Forest Area near TeePee Creek, AlbertaReuters
Smoke rises from Alberta wildfire near TeePee Creek

Thousands of Canadians have been ordered to leave their homes in Fort Nelson, British Columbia due to the threat of a wildfire.

The blaze began on Friday night and was described by officials as “exhibiting extreme fire behaviour”.

Wildfires have also led to evacuation alerts and orders in the neighbouring province of Alberta.

The Canadian government has warned this year’s weather conditions would mean a greater wildfire risk in the country.

The Parker Lake fire, as it’s been called by the British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS), was 8sq km (3 sq miles) in size as of Saturday morning after growing rapidly overnight.

Some 3,000 people in Fort Nelson – located in northeast BC about 1,600km (1,000 miles) from Vancouver – were ordered to evacuate.

Rob Fraser, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, told CBC News the fire began after high winds knocked a tree over and it crashed onto a power line and caught fire.

“And then by the time our firefighters were able to get down there, the wind had whipped this up into a fire that they weren’t able to handle with the apparatus that we had,” Mr Fraser said.

Strong winds and dry conditions are making the fire more difficult to fight, according to the BCWS.

As of Saturday, the fire was being fought by nine helicopters, as well as ground crews and a structure protection specialist, whose job it is to protect structures affected by wildfires.

In Alberta, people in the Grande Prairie region are under evacuation alerts and some have been asked to leave due to a blaze burning 4km east of the hamlet of TeePee Creek in the province’s northwest.

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Fort Nelson’s Gas Boom Went Bust. Who’s Going to Clean Up?

Fort Nelson’s Gas Boom Went Bust. Who’s Going to Clean Up?

Ottawa has announced money to clean up the oil and gas industry’s old wells and infrastructure, but critics say it’s not enough.

The Cabin gas plant expansion was supposed to provide jobs near Fort Nelson. Now it sits idle. Photo by Garth Lenz.

In the face of the economic fallout from COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that some communities in British Columbia were in deep fiscal distress long before the pandemic began.

Fort Nelson is a good example, and a textbook case of why senior levels of government need to be mindful when they roll out recovery plans such as the announced $1.7 billion in federal funding to address cleanup costs at aging oil and natural gas wells.

In 2008, B.C.’s northernmost city was rocked by news that logging and sawmilling giant Canfor was closing two panel mills. Four hundred and thirty five men and women, among the highest paid workers in their community, lost their jobs. The mills never reopened.

851px version of canfor.jpg
For 14 years, Canfor’s massive PolarBoard mill has stood idle on the outskirts of Fort Nelson. Hopes that gas extraction would provide new jobs were soon dashed. Photo by Garth Lenz.

The fossil fuel equivalent of a gold rush owed its roots to developments in distant Texas where companies had figured out how to force oil and gas out of stubborn shale rock by blasting it with tremendous volumes of water, sand and chemicals in fracking operations. With that innovation, a wave of drilling and fracking for “shale oil” and “shale gas” swept across North America. 

Before long Encana, Apache, Nexen, Chevron and other energy companies swarmed Fort Nelson. The city’s main street buzzed with pickup trucks, its hotels and restaurants were fully booked, and the bar tabs ran high.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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