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Global News What Happened To...?

Fort McMurray Fires | 12

In May 2016, tens of thousands of people in Fort McMurray were forced to flee their homes, as a fire burned through surrounding forests and entered the city.
Damian Asher, a veteran firefighter and the captain of the Fort McMurray fire department, said the department had been monitoring the wildfire's movement.
READ MORE: Short-term exposure to Fort McMurray wildfire smoke affected lungs of RCMP officers: study
"We've had lots of forest fires in our area in the past and we work with lots of forest fires in that area. As far as moving into our city, with a forest fire, you never know what's going to happen," he said.
"Forestry crews Alberta Forestry were on it. They were putting in their measures to keep the fire at bay and keep the fire located in the area where it was," he recalled.
"We were prepared for it for where it was; we had discussions of testing all of our skills, making sure our equipment worked, all that sort of stuff," he said.
Then the fire made its move.
"The wind direction made a 180-degree shift in wind direction and pushed the fire into the city."
The fires in May forced the evacuation of almost 90,000 residents from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and destroyed about 2,400 homes and other buildings.
READ MORE: Fires and floods: How Fort McMurray is addressing risk of disaster 5 years after massive wildfire
Asher was one of the firefighters working to battle the blaze. For days, he and several crews tried to suppress the flames.
"The fire moved in really fast and it just came in like a big wave. It was super dry that year, so it was just a big wave of fire that come up out of the trees.
"And as it come down out of the trees, it threw a lot of debris into the residential zones. A lot of burned embers were landing in houses, backyards on decks and stuff like that," he said.
"We had lots of fires in multiple areas, not just at the face of where the fire was."
READ MORE: 5 years after ‘The Beast’ ignited, investigation into Fort McMurray wildfire ‘remains open and active’
The Insurance Bureau of Canada said insured damage caused by the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., totalled $3.58 billion, making it the most expensive disaster for insurers in the country’s history at the time.
On this episode of What happened to …? Erica Vella revisits speaks with residents in the city of Fort McMurray and people on the frontlines who attempted to stop the fire. She finds out how the city has recovered and what has been done to prevent fires like this from happening in the future.
Email: erica.vella@globalnews.ca
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