Getting away from a catastrophe

I’m sure most readers are aware of the massive fire that caused the complete evacuation of the Canadian city of Fort McMurray a couple of weeks ago.  There’s a very sobering article by a resident about his family’s lack of preparation for such an emergency, and how it’s caused him to re-evaluate many things.  Here’s an excerpt.

I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but if you believe in some version of hell my family just drove through it. A few hours ago my family and I escaped the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta which as you may have seen on the news is burning.

We drove through the fire, avoiding dangling electrical wires. We are alive, we have found shelter for tonight in a motel. But like so many others we were unprepared to evacuate when we were told we needed to.

I am going to ask you to do what my family did not do, but wish we did: have an emergency kit ready.

Forest fires are not uncommon in Northern Alberta. Each year many fires occur in the vast Boreal forest that covers the Northern Region of the province, but most of them stay contained, or burn a safe distance from inhabited communities.

Living in Fort McMurray for the past three years (past two years for my wife Amanda and son Odin) we have been witness to these yearly events. Each time, my wife and I will say to each other “We should really think about having an Emergency Preparedness Kit”. We talk about it. We say what a good and practical idea it is. Then, like so many others, it gets put to the wayside and forgotten. We’ll get to it, we say, just like how we’ll get to all the other things in life we say we’ll get to eventually.

Today that forgetfulness put us in danger.

There’s more at the link.

Another resident of Fort McMurray recorded a series of video clips of the evacuation.  They make for stunning (and very scary) viewing.  Here’s the third in the series.  Just look at the numbers of cars all trying to funnel onto already clogged streets, surrounded by flames, to make their getaway . . . frightening indeed!  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

The other videos, in sequence, are:

Sobering viewing indeed.  Are you ready for such a disaster?  Can anyone ever really be prepared for something that monumental?



  1. I have two readiness plans currently: One for a crisis in which I have to get out of New Orleans and one in which I stay and fortify. Both are fraught with problems but I think about each of them every day.

  2. Ten years ago, we were reminded down here that you can't plan on outrunning a grassfire/brushfire in a car, especially on a rural road. Wind gusts of 60 mph can carry the flames ahead of you, or toss burning debris and jump roads and arroyos. Scary stuff.


  3. Lessons from Katrina blog comes to mind.

    At that point, curbs and lane markings should loose their meaning. I've never understood how deeply ingrained the regard for them is for some people. Front yards and sidewalks are fair game when getting OUT is the order of the day. I routinely evaluate the distance between signs and trees at intersections, just in case I need to GO!

    I was called in during a Houston flood in the 90's. Water was coming through our ceiling on the 51st floor and ruining equipment. I was going in while everyone else was going out. Knowledge of the low spots and judicious disregard for traffic signs (like one ways, lane markings and curbs) allowed me to zip right on in.

    Tarping up equipment racks 500 feet in the air was surreal.

  4. I learned my lesson a few years ago when the National Guard accidentally set a mountain near my home on fire. Considering how many houses had been built in the scarp of the mountain, as well as up the mountain itself, it was a miracle that only one house was lost and no lives. It was amazing to see how fast the fire crested the mountain and then moved down it. Better to leave early on than to wait until the smoke and flames have arrived.

  5. My memory is fuzzy, but ~15 years ago there was a huge California fire that wound up consuming something between 1K and 2K houses in one locality; there was an article by one homeowner who had built a concrete house, including a concrete-paneled roof – his was the only house standing in hundreds of acres of charred remains. Because he had als kept the area adjacent to the house free of combustible landscaping all he had to do was repaint the exterior.

    Florida, in particular, organizes coastal hurricane evacs pretty well, terminating two-way traffic on divided highways with police directing evac traffic onto what used to be "the wrong side" of the road, doubling the number of lanes available for evac from the coast. Since FL has lots of toll roads, tolls get suspended at the same time to help keep traffic moving.

    June 1- Nov 30 is hurricane season, and every single media outlet in FL will recycle their Hurricane Hysteria pieces from May 25-June 10 (same thing every year, but the newbies haven't heard it 10 times yet).

    I'd think that given the propensity of disasterous fires in the Fort Mac area someone would consider a change to building codes/materials and do some evac planning. I didn't go through it, but I did get to see Andrew's Aftermath up close and personal right after I moved to FL; after that I always had Murphy's philosophy: prepare for both bunkering in and bugging out and make that decision early. If bugging out, if it's flat enough to drive on it's usable for evac; sorry about your lawn and all that. And, the new 1995 FL uniform statewide building code was adopted to take advantage of the lessons learned from Andrew.

    RE: evac planning – if there's recognition of a need for mass evac, depending on terrain, designing roads to have "spare" lanes is not rocket surgery. What can be used as extra wide shoulders or parking in normal times becomes available for evac in emergencies, and making "two lane" streets wide enough for 3-4 lanes when they're laid out originally doesn't require that much more thought.

  6. The major problem with an evac as shown on that video, is the same as any heavy daily commute: you will end up moving at the pace of the slowest driver. Unless you can maneuver around him/her.

    If I can't get past you, and the road is clear in front of you, I will push you up to speed. I may just spin you off to the side, depending on what you and I are driving. The basic idea is: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of My Way! If you are content to be a rolling roadblock, don't be surprised if you get shoved to the side.

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