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.

Just Posted

An incredible closing ceremony capped off the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (File photo by SUSAN JUDGE/2019 Canada Winter Games)
2019 Canada Winter Games Legacy Fund Society hands out $655,000

35 not-for-profit groups across Alberta to get money

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, says COVID ICU patients have increased by more than 100 per cent in the past month. (Photo by The Government of Alberta)
Record number of people in ICU: says AHS president

The head of Alberta Health Services says hospital staff are treating more… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team announced Monday. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer Rebels acquire goaltender Connor Ungar, forward Liam Keeler in separate trades

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon… Continue reading

Alexander Michael Talbot, 29, was found guilty of operating a vehicle while prohibited, flight from police and vehicle theft in Red Deer provincial court recently. (Advocate file photo)
Man charged following police chases in central Alberta last summer is sentenced

Alexander Michael Talbot sentenced to 22 months in prison

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

Defenders, critic of Bill C-10 clash over limits for shared social media content

Defenders, critic of Bill C-10 clash over limits for shared social media content

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 22, 2014, file photo, gold bars are stacked in a vault at the United States Mint, in West Point, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mike Groll
Ottawa ‘concerned’ as Centerra reports Kyrgyz government taking control of gold mine

Ottawa ‘concerned’ as Centerra reports Kyrgyz government taking control of gold mine

In this May 23, 2012, file photo, surveyors work next to Canadian Pacific Rail trains parked on the tracks in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
CN merger with Kansas City Southern to be decided on current rules: U.S. regulator

CN merger with Kansas City Southern to be decided on current rules: U.S. regulator

Oprah and CNN: AT&T is merging media business with Discovery

Oprah and CNN: AT&T is merging media business with Discovery

A street sign along Bay Street in Toronto's financial district  is shown in Toronto on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Commodities lift S&P/TSX composite to record close while loonie hits six-year high

Commodities lift S&P/TSX composite to record close while loonie hits six-year high

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals silent on nature of Fortin probe or who will replace him on vaccine campaign

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is scrambling to reassure Canadians that the… Continue reading

A woman attends a vigil in front of the hospital where Joyce Echaquan died in Joliette, Que., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hospital staff testify today at Quebec coroner’s inquiry into death of Joyce Echaquan

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. — Medical staff from a Quebec hospital where Joyce Echaquan… Continue reading

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on February 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa looking for 2,000 new energy auditors to get home retrofit program going

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking to train 2,000 more people… Continue reading

Most Read