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Fort McMurray fire Chief Darby Allen the human face of wildfire fight

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, May 5th, 2016

If the fight to save Fort McMurray from wildfires has a human face, it’s that of veteran fire Chief Darby Allen.

Many Canadians have taken to Twitter this week calling Allen a “hero” for his efforts in battling the fire that has destroyed parts of the Albertan community and caused tens of thousands to evacuate their homes.

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The raging blaze has obviously taken an emotional toll on the Fort McMurray fire chief.

He appeared to fight back tears as he haltingly told a Wednesday news conference that 88,000 people had been successfully evacuated.

“No one is hurt, and no one has passed away right now,” he said. “I really hope we get to the end of this and we can still say that.

“We are here, and we are strong and we will keep doing our job.”

According to fellow fire Chief Rob Evans, his friend is in a situation nobody wants to be in.

“I wish I could be there to help him,” said Evans, who runs Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, west of Calgary. “He’s doing a great job from everything I can see on TV but he looks tired.”

Rogers is giving free long distance/texting to Fort McMurray until May 17 and we are partnering with the Red Cross. If you would like to donate $10, text the word REDCROSS to 45678 or 30333 for a $5 donation.

But Evans said Allen, who has spent much of his career training other firefighters, is ideally suited to sharing knowledge about blazes.

The two have known each other for 20 years, beginning when Allen was a training officer with the Calgary Fire Department.

“The knowledge he’s able to share and brings to the table is just outstanding,” said Evans. “It’s really one of his best attributes.”

According to local media outlet Fort McMurray Today, Allen joined the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo’s fire service in 2009 and was officially named chief in January 2013.

Prior to serving with the municipality, Allen worked for the Calgary Fire Department between 1992 and 2007.

There he held various posts as a firefighter, training officer and assistant deputy chief of operations.

It is as a training officer that Allen truly excelled, according to Evans, who called him a “great mentor.”

“Training was definitely one of his strengths and one of his passions,” he said.

In a 2013 article, Allen is described as a father of two and a native of Birmingham, England, who moved to Canada in 1990.

His LinkedIn profile says he graduated from a high school near Birmingham in 1973.

In England, he spent several years with the Hampshire Fire Brigade.

One representative from that fire service remembered him in a tweet on Wednesday, which was also International Firefighters Day.

“Our thoughts on #IFFD are with Chief Darby Allen ex-Hampshire firefighter now tackling the fire of his career,” tweeted Jason Avery, area manager with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Evans said it’s impossible for fire chiefs not to be personally affected by the blazes that strike their communities.

“You see your residents losing their homes, and that kind of thing,” he said.

“It hurts, it really hurts, especially when you love your community, and when you do the job that we do, you have to love your community.”

Door-to-door delivery up for debate as Liberals launch review of Canada Post

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, May 5th, 2016

The federal government is embarking Thursday on a formal review of Canada Post that will look at whether the Crown corporation should continue with its plan to cut door-to-door mail delivery.

The four-member independent panel could also examine whether the national letter carrier should get back into the banking business.

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An official in Public Services Minister Judy Foote’s office says the panel will look at “all options” as it conducts the review.

The task force panel, to be announced by Foote at a news conference in Ottawa, will provide an interim report by the end of summer, with final recommendations to be made before year’s end, said Annie Trepanier, a spokeswoman for the minister.

The postal unions have been pushing the banking option as a way for Canada Post to make money.

The postal service ditched its financial offerings in 1968, but the Canadian Union of Postal Workers argues that re-introducing banking at the agency’s more than 6,500 outlets could generate revenue that’s been lost as fewer people send letters.

Seniors groups and advocates for the disabled cried foul when Canada Post announced a controversial plan to phase out home mail delivery and switch millions of Canadians over to community mailboxes.

During the election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to restore door-to-door mail delivery. Once in power, he temporarily halted a move over to community boxes that was already underway.

But Foote told a parliamentary committee earlier this year that any return of home mail delivery service would depend on what the Crown corporation can afford to provide.

At the same time, the minister said she expected the review panel to look at other avenues of business that would enable Canada Post to be self-sustaining.

Council gives green light for Uber to operate legally in Toronto

CityNews | posted Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Toronto city council has voted in favour of new ground transportation rules that will cut some regulations for taxis while imposing new ones on Uber.

The newly-passed regulations means that for the first time, Uber has the green light to operate legally in Toronto.

Councillors voted 27-15 in favour of the new rules on Tuesday night after hours of debate.

With the new rules, taxis will be able to use surge-pricing – much like how Uber adds extra fees during busy times – but only for fares that are booked through an online app.

The base fare for Uber will increase by 75-cents to $3.25. Also, all vehicles must be inspected twice a year.

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Uber drivers will also be required to get $2-million in liability insurance. The city also approved a new PTC or private transportation company class to accommodate Uber.

A proposal that would have required Uber vehicles to have winter tires was amended to allow for all-season tires.

Uber celebrated the decision, tweeting “Thank you Toronto and Mayor Tory. Excited for the road ahead.”

During the council meeting, Coun. Cesar Palacio who chairs the Licensing and Standards Committee said the city is going to make sure Uber plays by the new rules.

“If they don’t want to abide by these regulations, they can get out of the City of Toronto, if they don’t comply with that. And we are going to make sure about that,” Palacio said.

Coun. Janet Davis was among the critics who said the city watered down safety standards to satisfy taxi companies.

Trending: May the 4th could be the biggest Star Wars Day ever

Christine Chubb | posted Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Embrace this day you must, upon us May the 4th is.

Yes my fellow Star Wars nerds, the day we cherish the most is here.

May the 4th be with you

From video games to adorable collectibles to, of course, the release of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” this year may be one of the biggest celebrations ever.

Simply put, Star Wars is everywhere.

As Master Yoda said “You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

In the years leading up to the release of Episode VII, fans buzzed with every tiny tidbit posted on social media.

And the fandamonium hasn’t stopped, with even some of the film’s biggest names getting in on the hype.

Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley recreating Yoda and Luke:

Daisy Ridley’s jedi training:

Disney recreating “The Force Awakens” with Emojis:

And hilarious videos containing spoilers:


The hype has been huge and the buildup won’t be falling into the sarlacc pit any time soon with the upcoming release of “Star Wars Rogue One.”

As well as updates on the filming of “Star Wars Episode VIII.”

But what’s Star Wars Day if you can’t celebrate like it’s happy hour at the Mos Eisley Cantina?

Jedi, padawans and stormtroops alike can gather today at the Hard Rock Cafe at Yonge-Dundas Square for Star Wars Day Toronto 2016.

The fan-run charity event will benefit SickKids Foundation.

May the 4th be with you my friends.

Fort McMurray officials confirm neighbourhoods razed by raging forest fire

John Cotter, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Emergency officials confirmed late Tuesday that whole neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray have been destroyed by a raging forest fire that sliced through the middle of the northern oilsands hub city.

Tens of thousands were sent fleeing in both directions, and the entire community of 80,000 was ordered evacuated.

Fire chief Darby Allen did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed, but said the fire is burning in several areas in the city’s south end and had razed a mobile home park.

There have been no reports of serious injuries and Allen said the priority is keeping everyone safe.

“Everybody here … has given everything today to do the very best they could,” Allen told a conference call with reporters late in the day. “We will continue to do the very best for you. We appreciate that some of you have lost properties. We have people working here right now that have lost property, too.”

He also said they are trying to maintain crucial infrastructure in the city, including the only bridge across the Athabasca River and Highway 63, the only route to the city from the south.

“It’s in the city. It’s impacting communities as we speak. Homes are on fire as we speak. It’s not a question of how far away it is anymore – it’s here.”

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean had said in an interview with The Canadian Press that much of downtown Fort McMurray was being destroyed by fire, but Allen said there had mostly been spot fires which have been extinguished.

“My home of the last 10 years and the home I had for 15 years before that are both destroyed,” said a sombre Jean, who is the member of the legislature for the area.

“I’m just hoping that the home I grew up in isn’t, but I’m afraid it probably is.”

He said businesses that have been in his family for three generations have been destroyed.

“It is a devastating impact but I’m hoping that we’ve had no loss of life,” he said.

The worst of the fire is not over, warned forestry manager Bernie Schmitte.

“We’re still faced with very high temperatures tomorrow, low relative humidities and some strong winds.”

Allen said they have requested military assistance and expect the army and air force will start sending out troops within a couple of days.

The blaze, which had burned since Sunday but seemed on its way to being neutralized Tuesday morning, overwhelmed firefighters when winds shifted quickly and drastically in the mid-afternoon to the southwest of the city.

Officials said flames stormed along a ravine and roared into the city and the race was on to get out.

Pictures and video on social media depicted a hellish scene of fountains of flame.

There was fire jumping roads, burning debris pitched into the paths of cars as frantic residents, lined up bumper to bumper, scrambled and fumbled to find their way through the thick grey haze.

“It became chaotic with vehicles trying to swerve and pull out into the ditch,” said resident Jordan Stuffco.

Air tankers and helicopters buzzed overhead.

“(With) the heat from the oncoming smoke and the flames, you could see mini-tornadoes forming near the road. It was something out of an apocalyptic movie.”

As the afternoon wore on and the fire intensified, more and more sections of the city were ordered evacuated until the entire community was ordered out after 6 p.m.

Resident Carol Christian drove to an evacuation centre with her son and cat.

“When you leave … it’s an overwhelming feeling to think that you’ll never see your house again,” she said, her voice breaking.

“It was absolutely horrifying when we were sitting there in traffic. You look up and then you watch all the trees candle-topping … up the hills where you live and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God. We got out just in time.’”

Highway 63, the main way into Fort McMurray from the south, was closed after flames jumped the road. The southern leg re-opened late Tuesday night.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, speaking to reporters in Edmonton, said the province was doing all it could to ensure everyone’s safety. She said she was looking into the possibility of an airlift for residents with medical issues.

“As frustrating and as scary as it is to leave your home, it’s not as frustrating and scary as to find that you’re trapped,” said Notley.

“It is absolutely important that people follow instructions and evacuate as requested.”

She said 160 Mounties were on scene trying to get people out.

Officials said there was no word of any injuries or people laid up by smoke inhalation.

Resident Sandra Hickey said the situation changed quite quickly.

“When I got in the shower earlier today the sky was blue. When I got out, the sky was black,” said Sandra Hickey, who had to leave her home. “It was fast. The wind picked up and changed direction.”

Fire officials had already warned earlier in the day that rising temperatures and low humidity could help the fire grow.

Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box. The wildfire threat ranged from very high to extreme.

Government spokesman Bruce Mayer said a cold front was expected to come through the region by mid- to late-day Wednesday, which would bring with it shifting winds gusting to 50 km/h. He said to expect “a more intense burning day.”

North of Fort McMurray, work camps associated with oilsands projects were being re-purposed to house evacuees.

Smoke fills the air as cars line up on a road in Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda.
Smoke fills the air as cars line up on a road in Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda.

Notley said the camps have secured spaces for 6,000 people, “but we know we need to find more.”

John Henderson of Edmonton, a scaffolder who was staying at a camp about an hour north of Fort McMurray, said he and the other workers were going to be flown out to make room for the evacuees, most of whom had arrived on buses and were staying in the gymnasium.

“Let’s face it, if things go south – and by south I mean move more north – this isn’t a place you want to be anyways.”

Evacuee Roscoe Sleeth arrived at the Mount Logan Lodge camp with his wife, two children and their two dogs.

He described a harrowing journey trying to get out of their city in a car packed full of their belongings. They first tried to go south on Highway 63, but when they got to the overpass “the flames were right down to the highway and cops were turning people around.”

A third son had managed to make it through before the fire jumped the highway.

“I would guess 30,000 to 70,000 people are going north,” he said. “It was wall to wall traffic going north.”

Sleeth has been through evacuations before, and said it’s “just part of living in the north.”

He shrugged off the possible loss of his home back in Fort McMurray.

“It’s just wood, hay and stubble,” he said. “I got my family out.”

Hayley O’Malley, a construction worker from Edmonton, said Tuesday she was going to head up to Fort McMurray with a group of about 100 friends to help out, adding they would load up with water and food to take to the evacuees.

“I’ll drive north, help out where I can and see what happens,” she said.

However, the Alberta Fire Fighters Association sent out an urgent tweet, pleading with people to stay home.

“We all want to help but under no circumstances should you self deploy!”

Fort McMurray is the capital of Alberta’s oilsands region and sits about 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

It was five years ago this month that wildfires destroyed about one-third of the community of Slave Lake, Alta. More than 500 homes and buildings were damaged at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Notley said the Fort McMurray situation rivals the Slave Lake catastrophe.

“In terms of fire this is our biggest fire evacuation,” she said. “This is bigger than Slave Lake.”

With files from Chris Purdy, Mary Jo Laforest, Dean Bennett, Jennifer Graham, Geordon Omand and Gwen Dambrofsky

Cruz exiting presidential race, Trump closer to Republican nomination

Steve Peoples, The Associated Press | posted Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Ted Cruz is ending his campaign for president, putting Donald Trump on a glide path to claim the Republican Party’s nomination.

The conservative firebrand and Texas senator had tried to cast himself as the only viable alternative to the billionaire businessman.

But his campaign said he was to announce his decision to drop out of the race after losing to Trump in Tuesday’s Indiana primary.

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