Forest fires are more than a common occurrence – they are a necessary part of a forest’s natural life cycle. In Alberta, where 57 percent of the province is boreal forest, both controlled and uncontrolled burns are the norm. This is why when the blaze initially erupted near Fort McMurray on May 1, Albertans did not panic. After all, the area had faced many fires before, such as the 1995 fire that engulfed Highway 63, cutting off the only route into the city, and in 2011, The Richardson fire wiped out a record-breaking 700,000 hectares just north of the city’s limits. Fort Mac learned from their experiences; a fireguard had been built around the city, underbrush was routinely being removed, and the city’s emergency operations centre was built in the municipal water-treatment plant, a location assumed to be safe from potential fires.
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