Saturday, 7 May 2016

Devastating forest fires

There are fears that the wildfire that has devastated the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada could get even bigger. Already it is said to be covering an area as big as New York City, and 80,000 people have been evacuated.

So far there are no reports of deaths or injuries, but the blaze is happening in the heart of Canada’s oil sands country, and there is concern it might reach extraction facilities and spark a major explosion. More than 1,000 firefighters, using 150 helicopters and 27 aircraft, have been deployed against the flames.

Probably the deadliest wildfire in Canadian history was the Matheson Fire of 29 July 1916, which destroyed six towns in Ontario, and devastated two more, as well as killing more than 220 people. It started when fires deliberately set to clear forest using slash and burn, got out of control.

Even worse was the fire that devastated Peshtigo and other lumber towns on the banks of Lake Michigan across the border in Wisconsin, USA on 8 October 8 1871, killing more than 1,150 people. It began in the forest surrounding the towns after a long dry spell. For the story, see A Disastrous History of the World. (See also my posts of 7 and 8 February 2009.)

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