Canadians are on the move in search of safety. They're beginning to get away from the smoke and flames of wildfires that now sweep broad swathes of the West.
The 2019 fire season in Western Canada has begun, but this year some former residents of Alberta and B.C. won’t be there.
They’ve lived through the last two years of devastating wildfires and have moved on, for good. Seeking safety for themselves and their families, they’ve picked up stakes, often taking an economic hit.
“I sold my home and got out of it,” says Darlene Powell, 73, who has moved from Kelowna, B.C., to Carleton Place, Ont. “I just couldn’t handle how bad the air quality was. My breathing was getting worse and I ended up on a puffer to ease the tightness in my lungs.”
...With experts saying that anthropogenic climate change is creating the conditions for more fires, the past two summers have been the worst on record in B.C. in terms of acreage burned, according to BC Wildfire Service statistics. And parts of Alberta have seen the driest spring on record in 2019.
News reports focus on people forced to evacuate due to the immediate threat of fire, as was the case this year in the Alberta community of High Level, and of course the worst-case scenarios, when entire municipalities burn, as in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray. But much larger populations are affected by smoke, with long-term exposure taking a psychological as well as a physical toll.
...Bruce Blackwell of B.A. Blackwell and Associates, a forestry and environmental management services company in North Vancouver, has 30 years’ experience consulting with communities in the aftermath of wildfires.
“After the 2003 fires, which affected Kelowna, I did some policy work for the city: Three people showed up,” he says. “Now I am getting calls from almost all sectors of society — business, government, settler and Indigenous populations. People are concerned about their assets.”
...“The fires we are seeing are so big the government doesn’t fight them. Instead, it focuses on getting people out of the way.”
But it can be next to impossible to escape the smoke, and impractical to evacuate large urban areas. For those people trapped in large cities, the spectre of living for weeks or even months in a smoke-filled environment can be too much.
“For most of August last year, the air quality in Calgary was terrible,” Georgia Fisher [who has since relocated to Peterborough]. “My daughter had especially sensitive lungs due to being born three months premature, so taking her out was a really bad idea. Even running errands myself was pretty brutal. My chest hurt all month, and we had no idea how to keep the house safe — the smoke just seeped in.”
Even here on Vancouver Island we have days when the wildfires far inland get so intense that smoke drifts out over the Pacific. It was bad enough last year that I bought air purifiers to clean the air inside. What we had, however, is nothing compared to what afflicts others from central B.C. to Alberta and points east. Of course those are areas where people are ardent supporters of pipelines and the imaginary bounty of bitumen. They're all for it until it bites them in the ass.
And now we've got Jason, Moe and Curly chomping at the bit to get a massively expanded pipeline from the Tar Sands to 'tidewater' so that they can flood world markets with the filthiest, high carbon, high cost, low value ersatz oil on the planet. This is their legacy: