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What are your thoughts on the burning of Slave Lake?

On Cross Country Checkup: Slave Lake fire

After a fire swept through the northern Alberta town last Sunday, many of Slave Lake's seven-thousand  evacuated residents are still wondering when they can return.  Most left town in a panic-filled rush with nothing. Now some are finding out they have nothing to return to either.

What are your thoughts?

With host Rex Murphy.


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Introduction

Today we want to talk about the events surrounding the fire that last Sunday consumed a quarter of the homes and forced the evacuation of the whole town of Slave Lake, Alberta, population seven-thousand. It is the largest evacuation in Alberta's history. Many residents are still in safe centres in places such as nearby Athabasca. Many have managed to make other arrangements and are staying with friends, family and other helpful souls. The latest word is that it will be at least a week before any can return to their homes. Almost four hundred have already found out that they have no homes to return to.

Forest fires can be terrifying in their size and intensity ...and with their ability to leap over firebreaks carefully constructed to protect towns, they can also be totally unpredictable. This is what happened last Sunday in Slave Lake after a wind change suddenly brought a large fire right into town. Residents received last minute orders to evacuate only to find many of the roads where closed as burning cinders rained down on the town.

Other Canadians such as residents of Kelowna, British Columbia have a pretty good idea what's going through the minds of the people of Slave Lake because in 2003 Kelowna faced a similarly terrifying situation. Thirty-thousand residents were evacuated then, and hundreds lost their homes.

Last week on Checkup we heard from many Manitobans battling the rising waters flooding so much of the Assiniboine River watershed. And, also from Quebecers living south of Montreal near the Richelieu River. Canadians across the country phoned in to share their thoughts and experiences. At this time, three-thousand people still cannot go home in Manitoba. In Quebec, along the Richelieu a thousand people have been out of their homes for the last five weeks and resident are now bracing for a new deluge.

So, today we'd like to extend the same opportunity for Canadians to reach out to the residents of Slave Lake and offer their thoughts and their similar experiences. It's a big country but at times like this we can make it a bit more neigbourly.

What must it be like to be in the path of a fire? What do you think of the efforts of the various levels of government? What do Canadians outside Alberta have to say to their fellow citizens inside that province? Your response to the Slave Lake fire and evacuation - today on Checkup.

Maybe you yourself have experienced a fire such as this or the loss of your home ...do you have any advice?

Our question today is simply: "What are your thoughts on the Slave Lake fire?"

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


Guests

  • Greg Rasmussen
    CBC Radio national reporter for Manitoba.

  • Mel Knight
    Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and MLA for the Grande Prairie--Smoky constituency.

  • Angie McConnell
    Grew up in Slave Lake and is co-ordinator of donations and help for residents through her website.

  • Gerry Zimmerman
    Former Fire Chief of the City of Kelowna, BC in charge during the 2003 Kelowna fire.




Links

CBC.CA

Globe and Mail

Edmonton Journal

National Post

 




E-mail

My heart goes out to those who have lost so much in this disaster. What I wonder is, can we not do more to prevent forest fires from sweeping into towns and cities in the first place. I only know of a few towns and cities which actively maintain a fire break around them. Should this not come under the jurisdiction of the local fire department, to see that hazards are removed and proper prevention measures have been taken? Perhaps it is time they had the authority to implement safety barriers to help ensure the protection of their cities. This is not the first time this has happened and if we do not take some more preventative measures it could happen again.

Kenny Merrill
Armstrong, British Columbia

There is little use in crying over spilt milk. We must look to the future. We
must plan to minimise the effects of these disasters. Following the disasters at Slave lake and other parts of the world we need to start thinking about completely changing the way we live in more ways than one.

For starters, we should start thinking about how we build our cities. towns, and dwellings. How about constructing all future buildings underground? Underground buildings will not only be fire proof, storm proof, earthquake proof, and flood proof, they will also save a lot energy needed for heating in winter and cooling in summer. In these days of energy shortages and rising energy costs this is a big plus.

In addition, the land freed as a result of building underground could be used for growing food locally, for parks, play grounds, and most importantly, for natural flora and fauna to flourish.

The above are but a very few of the advantages of building and living underground.

Kabeer Sayeed
Ottawa, Ontario

Canadians have given generously to world-wide catastrophes such as Haiti and Japan. It didn't take 24 hours re the Slave Lake town's disaster  before the Red Cross was front and centre, asking people everywhere to contribute to the needs of those people, and rightly so. We are horrified at their misfortune, and anxious to help.

But my question is:  Where's the big country-wide plea for aid to Manitoba flooded farmers?  I have heard nothing in this regard, but I'm ready with my money for such a campaign. We can't wait for governments, provincial or federal to get in gear with their promises. This is the third or fourth year of disaster for these people  who are losing t heir livelihoods. In many cases that rich top soil will not be there when the water recedes. People of Manitoba need to know that other Canadians care.

Barbara Dalby
Mile Ranch, British Columbia

I have a business devoted to assisting communities in developing and implementing wildfire prevention strategies. We are based out of Invermere, BC, which is a well known hot-spot for forest fuel loading and community development in the wildland/urban interface.

The BC government has committed millions of dollars to wildfire prevention strategies and implementation programs. Every community no matter how large or small should adopt the Firesmart program developed in Alberta by Partners in Protection. This program and its literature is available from the BC and AB governments.

There are so many proven stategies and tools available to protect communities and homeowners. I spend an enormous amount of time on the education process, that most critical first step.

Regards and thoughts to the residents of Slave Lake,

Brad Munroe
Invermere, British Columbia

I worked on a pipeline project this past winter and stayed in Slave Lake. I don't know how much more of a fire-break you could have had. As I remember, pretty much every approach crosses a highway with wide clearings on each side. I can't see what fire-break could be counted on to protect against 100km winds driving a fire.

I remember seeing video of the Ford dealership with rows of burnt out pickups. These were parked against a concrete wall on a paved lot, about 20 metres from any buildings. There must have been a real inferno to catch these on fire. I'm glad that all were safely evacuated, though it is a shame that a helicopter pilot was lost fighting the fire afterwards.

This didn't impact me directly as I have been out of there over a month ago, but it s a shame for the good people of a good town. They will be back.

Rick Hammond
Alberta

I live in Edmonton, and I love Slave Lake. I've camped there most years since we moved to Edmonton in 1996 - it's a charming little town on a magnificent wild lake. It's a place that reconciles me to living away from the ocean, after growing up in New Brunswick. We live a block from the evacuation centre at Northlands in Edmonton, so the aftermath comes close to home.

I just want to encourage people, if they are donating, to consider the animals who need help as well. The Edmonton Humane Society has been driving up and rescuing cats, dogs, reptiles, birds, and little mammals, and reuniting them with their people where they can, and fostering where they can't. They aren't getting any government support for the rescue effort, and as you can imagine, more than 200 animals to be housed and fed and cared for puts a big strain on an organization that is already working at the edge of the available money. Companion animals are so important to so many people - please think about them when you're getting out the credit card.

Yours,

Katy Mackay
Edmonton, Alberta

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