The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has released a report written in March of this year on the massive fire that wreaked havoc on the Alberta city of Fort McMurray just over a year ago. It finds an interesting information about exactly how the blaze, nicknamed “The Beast” actually spread.
The report was written by Alan Westhaver, who had been working with Canada’s national parks for 27 years and now owns an environmental consulting firm, says there’s more to why some homes burned and others didn’t.
The surprising finding? None of the houses that fell victim to the forest fire were actually directly touched by it, and only a hand full were ignited because of direct heat from the fire.
“Based on sites visited, no instances were observed where home ignition could confidently be attributed to direct contact by flames of the burning forest, and there were very few observations where home ignition was likely due only to radiant heat from the forest,” wrote Westhaver.
A large number of the houses were lost because of hot embers landing on trees, shrubs, decks, and other flammable objects igniting them in the yards of homes, which then spread to the houses.
“Primarily, it was millions of raisin-sized firebrands searching for places to carry on with combustion, and succeeding all too often,” continued Westhavers report.
Somewhere around 2,400 homes were lost as a result of the 2016 forest fire, which also caused almost $4 billion in insured damages and displaced tens of thousands of people . It was a very expensive lesson, but the report says lessons have been learned how to better landscape homes to help reduce the risk of this re-occurring in the future.
“This progression can only be broken, and disaster avoided, by substantially increasing the proportion of homes that are resistant to ignition – especially by embers,” concludes Westhaver.
But as the one year anniversary recently passed, some Fort McMurray residents were concerned that another fire may have been coming their way on the day of the anniversary.
“People are scared, even when there’s an orange sunset they get visibly shaken,” said a member of the crew that is cleaning up after the disaster. “The one year anniversary has just passed and people were thinking there was going to be another fire on the same day.”
Even though it’s already been more than a year since “The Beast” raged in Fort McMurray, some of the residents which had lost their homes are still uncertain as to what they are going to do as insurance companies have yet to sign off on some claims.
“When you get up every day and you can’t figure out what your future is, you don’t know if you want to live here or move on,” said Mike Ryan, a Fort McMurray resident whose home was destroyed, to CBC News.