Dousing an urge to burn

It will likely take a generation before a sense of peace and safety is fully restored for many people in Slave Lake.

It will likely take a generation before a sense of peace and safety is fully restored for many people in Slave Lake.

Perhaps, given the devastating nature of the fire that swept through the Northern Alberta town a year ago, a feeling of foreboding will linger for much longer.

That’s human nature, given the power of the wildfire that destroyed almost 400 homes, many business and public buildings, and drove the entire population of 6,800 people to seek refuge elsewhere.

Most people who lost their homes are still living in trailers, awaiting new construction. Or they have moved away, unwilling to be surrounded by the memories.

The images of the ravaged town should also remain in the memory banks of the rest of us — and should serve as a stark reminder of just how powerful, and overwhelming, fire can be.

The Slave Lake damage, estimated at $700 million, puts it second only to the 1998 Quebec ice storm in terms of financial impact of a Canadian disaster. And monetizing a disaster often minimizes it: the toll on human lives is so much more difficult to quantify, yet cuts to the bone.

On the anniversary of the Slave Lake fire, there is no better time to reflect on the potential a spark can carry.

Albertans are preparing to head out for their first long weekend of mild weather, into the parks and forests that we are so proud of.

As we do so, we are being warned about the exceptionally dry conditions around the province. Fire bans are being issued by municipalities and the province, which has prohibited open fires in all forested areas.

Several wildfires are now burning in the province. The provincial government’s daily wildfire report for Wednesday listed two fires out of control in Alberta, one being held and 11 still burning but under control.

In total, 275 men and women were battling those blazes (the only death in the Slave Lake fire was that of a pilot fighting the blaze; it is an extremely hazardous and arduous job).

In total, 8,191 acres of forest has burned already this spring in Alberta, as the result of 317 fires.

Millions of dollars will be spent battling fires this year, more people will be displaced and yet more property will be damaged or destroyed. Albertans will suffer health problems, particularly those with breathing difficulties. Wildlife and livestock will be destroyed.

Yet many Albertans persist in being careless, regardless of the dry conditions.

Humans are responsible for igniting 60 per cent of all wildfires, the Slave Lake fire included. In November, the province announced that it had ruled out all causes of the fire except arson. At that point, the file was turned over to the RCMP. No suspect has been arrested.

Don’t be the person responsible for the next fire.

And don’t let others, if at all possible, create the spark that leaves another community devastated.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell is hoping to pick up where he left off last season as the 2020-21 WHL season kicks off Friday in Red Deer against the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels set to host Tigers in WHL season opener

24-game WHL Alberta only season kicks off night Friday at the Centrium

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano tries to help goaltender David Rittich stop a shot from Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson during first-period NHL action Thursday, February 25, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Most Read