As is true south of the border, Canada’s wildfires are getting bigger, and the annual wildfire season is growing longer. In the past week, the blaze firefighters have nicknamed “the beast” has displaced more than 88,000, hit the country’s oil production, and grown steadily in size. Ignited by an unknown cause nine miles west of Fort McMurray, within a week it morphed into a 565,000-acre leviathan—20 percent larger than the city of Los Angeles—jumping highways and four rivers in the process and triggering a mandatory mass evacuation as crews met the flames in a series of pitched battles. The urban skirmishes couldn’t prevent the loss of more than 2,400 structures. The damage was a shock in an era of modern detection and suppression techniques. It approached the oil sands production areas, at one point reaching within 20 miles of a bitumen processing facility’s highly combustible chemicals. Estimates of the damage are higher than 9 billion Canadian dollars, on pace to be the costliest natural disaster in the country’s history. Though 90 percent of Fort McMurray was saved, its 61,000 residents are blanketed with uncertainty as officials block their return until the city is deemed safe.
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