A wildfire in Alberta, Canada, that began unremarkably on May 1 as “MWF-009” soon ballooned into a major, fast-moving conflagration, owing to hot, dry weather, high winds, and low humidity, creating a disaster of historic proportions. The flames caused extensive property damage and led to the evacuation of the entire population of Fort McMurray, in the heart of Canada’s oil sands country. While the wildfire emergency never became a “communications event,” prompting an ARES activation, Radio Amateurs of Canada said, radio amateurs on the ground helped other organizations such as the Red Cross.
Alberta Section Manager Garry Jacobs, VE6CIA/VE6OW, reported on May 5 that Alberta ARES went on standby “to provide VHF/UHF linking,” although there was no HF activity due to the fact that Fort McMurray had been evacuated.
According to the Amateur Radio Coalition, a national ham radio “fan page” on Facebook, PERCS (Provincial Emergency Radio Communications Service) was put on standby to staff the radio room and to establish communications into Fort McMurray, and the club in Fort McMurray was staffing its local emergency communications center in case communications fail. Based in neighboring British Columbia, PERCS, which is roughly equivalent to RACES in the US, consists of Amateur Radio volunteers who provide emergency communication to support municipalities, emergency managers, or other response agencies. PERCS operates in partnership with Radio Amateurs of Canada.
By the end of the first week, some 80,000 residents had been evacuated from Fort McMurray. Some 25,000 residents who had fled to the north of the city were successfully relocated to the south, and out of the fire’s path. Thousands of homes and buildings have been lost — including entire neighborhoods — in the region as a result of the unprecedented fire disaster.
According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, provincial officials still have not determined when it might be safe for residents to return to Fort McMurray. Officials said on May 11 that the fire was lessening in intensity, and favorable weather conditions were helping firefighters’ efforts to contain the blaze. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to visit Fort McMurray on Friday, May 13.