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.
A 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.
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.
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.
The 300 South African firefighters that were requested to help suppress the huge fire at Fort McMurray arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Sunday after a 24-hour journey. If their enthusiasm displayed upon their arrival at the Edmonton airport (below) is indicative of their productivity on the fireline, they will be a valuable resource.
The men and women were selected from 5,000 that have been part of the Working On Fire (WoF) program in South Africa. The government-funded organization changes the lives of unemployed South African youths by training them to become firefighters.
In addition to the standard instruction they received in the WoF curriculum, the 300 chosen for the deployment went through a 10-day boot camp taught by Canadian trainers before they left Africa.
…With a shortage of water and specialized equipment here, the South African firefighters often use “firebeaters” – wooden sticks with a leather pad attached – to beat out a bush fire. But at their boot camp this month, the South Africans learned new water-handling techniques for the Canadian fires.
Those who were chosen for the latest mission are the fittest and most skilled of the 5,000 in the organization. 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 licences or enter postsecondary education.
At a farewell ceremony on Saturday at their temporary camp near Johannesburg, the 300 firefighters danced and sang the morale-building songs that they sing daily in the bush. “We are confident, we are excited,” they sang in the Zulu language.
The firefighters were mostly recruited from rural areas with high unemployment. So as part of their final preparations before flying to Canada, they were given a two-day course in financial management, to help them avoid making mistakes with their limited wages.
“For them, just to get to an international airport is a life-changing experience,” said Llewellyn Pillay, managing director of Working on Fire. “To put them on a plane and send them to a foreign country fundamentally changes their lives.”
This animation depicts the spread of the huge wildfire at Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is officially named the Horse River Fire. It has been burning for almost a month and has blackened 578,621 hectares. Or, if you are wondering how many square inches it has burned, it is almost 9 trillion.
The map below shows the perimeter of the fire and the fire danger in the Fort McMurray area, ranging from High to Extreme.
There is a good chance for thundershowers in the area Friday through Sunday.
Canada has requested 10 hand crews from the United States to assist with the huge wildfire at Fort McMurray, the Horse River Fire, in Alberta. A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, Kaari Carpenter, said the personnel have been asked to arrive on Wednesday, May 25. The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) is coordinating with several Geographic Areas hoping to find ten 20-person crews, on which all firefighters have passports.
Other resources that have been requested are two Interagency Resource Representatives (IARR) to support efforts in the Fort McMurray area, and one Technical Specialist (THSP) to serve as International Liaison for NICC at the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
We are working on confirming that an incident management team (IMT) comprised of both Canadians and Americans was mobilized to the Fort McMurray Fire about a week ago. The Northeastern Forest Fire Protection compact has built an IMT consisting of both Canadian Province members and American members and successfully mobilized them across Compact lines to Alberta. As far as we know this is the first time in the history of the compacts that an IMT team has crossed INTER-compact lines to manage international fires.
The map of the Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire) below shows that it has been active over the last 24 hours on the north and east sides. It has burned 523,000 hectares (1.3 million acres or 2019 square miles).
Our main article about the Fort McMurray Fire.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and others.