Fort McMurray's wildfire risk not over, danger lies within its city says fire chief

Darby Allen, Fort McMurray's fire chief, is worried about the fire hazard that a large forested area in the heart of the city poses.

City will spend $1.5M to keep Birchwood Trail from becoming its next wildfire

The fire department hopes to clear as many fallen and dead trees that pose a fire risk from Fort McMurray's Birchwood Trail. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

Fort McMurray isn't out of the woods when it comes to wildfire dangers, according to the city's fire chief Darby Allen.

Allen said the danger outside the city is minimal, but he's worried about the risk from within the heart of Fort McMurray.

"It only needs one strike of lightning and we are in trouble again," Allen said at a town council meeting Tuesday.

That risk comes from a large forested area called the Birchwood Trail, a network of over 130 kilometres of paths surrounded by the suburban communities of Thickwood and Timberlea.

Birchwood Trails is a network of more than 130 kilometers of trails in Fort McMurray sandwiched between Timberlea and Thickwood. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

One councillor at Tuesday's meeting described the area as a "tinder box."

Along trails it's easy to find stumps rotting in the bush, dried out evergreens dancing in the wind beside tipped over trees. The area was left untouched by May's wildfire.

Had the area caught fire residents who live in the vicinity said there would been much more damage to surrounding homes.

The province cleared 100 meters of forest out of the trail system as crews attempted to protect homes in case the forest caught fire.

$1.5M to extinguish the hazard

At the meeting the city committed itself to lessen the wildfire risks along Birchwood Trails.

Councillors voted to spend $1.5 million on clearing the perimeter of the trail where the urban forest meets homes and businesses. They will also be clearing any dead or tipped over trees.

The municipality is eligible for at least $500,000 from the province and the Fire Smart program, Allen told the Council.

Jennifer Cramm who walks along the Birchwood Trail is relieved Fort McMurray is taming the area.

"Just because we live so close and I know there would have been more damage if Birchwood Trails would have caught fire," Cramm said.

"So it's nice to know they are taking the precautions just in case."

The city of Fort McMurray has committed $1.5 million dollars to keep these trees a safe distance away from homes and structures. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

The fire department says it has also done fire assessments in the aftermath of the wildfire in the municipality's other communities and it will be looking at risks wildfires pose to communities like Fort McKay, Fort Chipewyan, Conklin and South Janvier (Chard) at a later date.

EMAIL: david.thurton@cbc.ca

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