ON THE LINE
On May 1st 2016 an unseasonably hot and dry spring brought yet another record-breaking wildfire to this region. Locally known as ‘the beast’, the Horse River wildfire was first sighted seven kilometres from Fort McMurray, an industrial North American Urban Service Area. Once a fledgling community, its population boomed from 1,110 in 1960 to support the extraction of dangerous fossil fuels from the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada.
Two days later, the mercury reached 32 Celsius. A rising wind shifted, turning a growing hellfire directly towards the outer suburbs. Without sufficient warning, residents evacuated immediately. They fled, leaving their homes and animals, some not knowing if their partners, friends or children could reach safety. Then, as over 80,000 residents descended upon the sole access route, seen behind these trees, Highway 63 jammed to a standstill. First-hand accounts described absolute terror and chaos. Miraculously, no human life was lost by fire.
48 hours later, over 1850 structures were incinerated. By week five 589,000 hectares had burned. Estimated damage of over $8.8 billion made this wildfire the costliest insured natural disaster in Canadian history.
These pictures were made during autumn, just six months after the event. The trauma was still in people’s voices, their movements hurried as they rushed to prepare themselves to face winter. In some cases, home became a modified recreational vehicle, adapted to withstand the coming cold. That January, temperatures dropped to -40 Celsius.
On The Line is a limited edition publication available here: https://alan-mcfetridge.com/shop/ontheline