1 in 5 firefighters on 2016 Fort McMurray Fire suffered from respiratory problems

Fort McMurray fire, May 16
Fort McMurray fire, May 16, 2016. NASA.

Some firefighters who fought the 1,500,000-acre Fort McMurray Fire that burned 2,400 homes in Alberta last year also battled respiratory and mental health issues.

Below is an excerpt from a CBC news article:

The University of Alberta study surveyed 355 firefighters and found a “very large proportion” of them complained of respiratory issues including coughing, breathlessness, wheezing and chest tightness in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“When we saw them later, probably about one in five of those still had problems with their chests that they felt had been caused or made worse by the fire,” said Nicola Cherry, the epidemiologist leading the study.

And they’re battling more than just physical ailments — mental-health issues affect one in six of study participants.

“When we collected this information, it was early days and people may develop bigger issues as time goes forward,” Cherry said.

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Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Fort McMurray Fire.

Precipitation reduces wildfire smoke in the central U.S.

Above: Snow cover in the United States, November 18, 2016. The Weather Channel.

Precipitation in the northwest quarter of the United States this week has put even more of a damper on the occurrence of wildfires, the execution of prescribed fires, and agricultural burning.

After weeks of warm, dry weather the Black Hills finally received a little precipitation over the last 24 hours. I won’t know the exact amount at my house until the snow in the rain gauge melts, but there was an inch or two of the white stuff on the ground. Today is sunny with a high of 32 predicted, so maybe it will trickle through the tipping bucket this afternoon.

snow rain gauge
Snow captured by my rain gauge since Thursday afternoon. Photo at 11 a.m. MT November 18, 2016 by Bill Gabbert.

Small amounts of precipitation in southern Saskatchewan may be the reason smoke from that area is no longer immigrating into the United States, as you can see in the two maps below. The first one was the smoke forecast for November 15 and the one after that is for today, November 18.

wildfire smoke forecast
Prediction for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. ET, November 15, 2016. Produced at 7 a.m. ET November 15.
wildfire smoke forecast
Forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. ET November 18, 2016, created at 1 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

However, prescribed fires, wildfires, or agricultural burning in Louisiana, Arkansas, and eastern Texas are still producing large quantities of smoke that at times moves north into the midwest.

No rain is predicted until the middle of next week for the areas where wildfires are smoking out the residents in some areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

24 hour precipitation
Accumulated precipitation estimated by radar over the 24 hours before 7:07 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

 

Researchers study how the Fort McMurray fire ignited homes

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-5-00-06-pmA preliminary report report released by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction looked at how the 1,500,000-acre Fort McMurray Fire ignited some of the 2,400 structures in the Alberta city in May of this year.

Below are excerpts from the document.

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After evaluating the fire environment and clearances between homes and the forest edge, the investigator discounted direct contact from flames or radiant heat of the forest fire as being significant sources of home ignition at Fort McMurray. Instead, it was concluded that wind-driven embers were the most probable cause for the majority of early home ignitions in the zone where the fire made its transition from forest into urban neighbourhoods. Once established, the fire would have spread from structure to structure as an urban conflagration, accounting for the majority of home losses.

home ignition zone
NFPA

In all neighbourhoods studied, homes whose owners had adopted FireSmart guidelines survived much more frequently than homes where they had not, despite the extraordinarily harsh conditions.

Recommended FireSmart guidelines work. They are effective in reducing the probability of home ignition and wildfire losses. Home survival does not appear to be random or a matter of luck.

Home survival depends on conditions in the home ignition zone, for which owners are responsible.

While low total hazard rating is important, a single critical weakness can lead to home loss.

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Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Fort McMurrary Fire”.

Firefighter collapses and dies on the job in Quebec

He was fighting a fire in the Chibougamau region Sunday afternoon

Regis Tremblay
Regis Tremblay

From the Montreal Gazette:

Régis Tremblay, 61, was at the scene of a blaze when he said he wasn’t feeling well and collapsed, said Gérard Lacasse, prevention and information co-ordinator for the provincial firefighting agency, the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU). Resuscitation attempts took place before he was rushed to a hospital in Roberval, where he was pronounced dead.

It was Tremblay’s 30th season with SOPFEU.

Lacasse said it was too early to tell what caused the death, but said the fire was not “intense” and was already under control. Tremblay was working on the fire for about an hour and a half before the incident.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends, family, and co-workers of Mr. Tremblay.

South African firefighters reportedly asked to leave Canada

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley are both intervening in an attempt to resolve the controversy.

A South African news agency, News24, is reporting that the 300 firefighters sent from their country to assist with the wildfires in Alberta have been asked by Canada to go home. The agency also reports that the firefighters are saying they will not leave until they receive the money they have been demanding.

Below is an excerpt from an article at News24:

Jenni Evans, News2

Cape Town – Canada has asked South Africa’s singing firefighters to go home after an internal pay dispute could not be resolved, Working on Fire said on Saturday.

”The Canadian government has asked us to get them out of Canada as soon as possible,” said Johan Heine, chairperson of the board of Working on Fire.

But Heine said the team has indicated that they will not leave until they receive confirmation that their pay demands will be met.

”They are demanding their money before they leave, and [that they] get confirmation that they get more money.”

”We all feel very terrible about it,” said Heine, who has been a firefighter for 30 years.

A Working on Fire management team arrived in Edmonton, Canada on Saturday morning and would travel with a South African embassy official to Alberta where they are based, to negotiate and pick a date for their return.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported online that Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley promised to intervene.

CBS quoted Notley as saying that it was not acceptable to her and her government that they would have people working for wages in that do not align with their labour laws.

She said every firefighter from South Africa or anywhere else would be compensated “in accordance with our laws in this province.”

The Peninsula, a Qatar newspaper, has a similar report.

South African firefighters in Alberta embroiled in pay dispute

The 300 firefighters that arrived in Alberta, Canada on May 29 to assist with the huge fire near Fort McMurray refused to work Wednesday over a dispute about their pay. When they were first deployed the Globe and Mail wrote:

After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licenses or enter postsecondary education.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBCNews on Wednesday:

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“…Bitiro Moseki is one of the firefighters based at a camp north of Fort McMurray. He said they are being paid $15 a day.

“It’s fifteen not even per hour, it’s fifteen per day,” said Moseki.

While that may seem hard to believe, given that Alberta expects to move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2018, a contract thought to be between the firefighters and their employer seems to back up the claim.

It shows the firefighters signed a contract that stated they would be paid a total of $50 a day, split into two payments.

The contract agrees to pay them $15 a day now, with the balance of $35 a day paid out within six months of their return to South Africa.

Moseki agreed firefighters did sign the contract, but said they have since been unsettled by media reports claiming they’re making much more money.

He said news articles quoted the South African government program that employs the crews claiming the workers are making between $15 and $21 an hour.

“We are not here for money, we are here to assist you,” said Moseki, adding the firefighters have turned to the South African commissioner in Canada for help to resolve the issue.

The contract does make it clear the money the firefighters are being paid is over and above their home wages, which were not disclosed.

The provincial government confirmed the South African firefighters did not work Wednesday because of the pay dispute.

“We contract with the South African government based on a rate per day per firefighter,” Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said in a statement. “We’re paying the rate. It’s our understanding these firefighters are being paid what they agreed to before they arrived. But if there is a disagreement here, it’s between the firefighters and their employer and not with the Government of Alberta.”

The ministry said the firefighters are employed by the Government of South Africa…”