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Crews scramble as Fort McMurray fire explodes in size

John Cotter, The Canadian Press | posted Friday, May 6th, 2016

Crews fighting to save Fort McMurray from rampaging flames water bombed the city Thursday to try to keep away a wildfire so intense it has spawned its own weather.

“It was creating its own high winds yesterday and even lightning was coming from the smoke clouds it created,” Chad Morrison of Alberta Forestry told a briefing in Edmonton on Thursday.

He said the fire continued to grow Thursday, but at a slower rate than before, and the spread was happening in forested areas away from the community.

More than 1,100 firefighters, including those in dozens of helicopters and air tankers, are battling the massive blaze.

Officials could not update the number of structures that have burned – already at 1,600 – saying crews had not had the time.

Morrison said there were 22 water bombers at work and more were coming in, including four from Quebec.

“But let me be clear: air tankers are not going to stop this fire,” he said. “It is going to continue to push through these dry conditions until we actually get some significant rain.”

Crews received a small break Thursday with temperatures forecast to fall to 16 C from the low 30s. But low humidity and high winds were expected to keep the situation fluid and dangerous.

They continued to fight the blaze near the evacuated community of Anzac, where the flames were getting closer to buildings.

The risk in the rest of the province also remained high and a provincewide fire ban was issued Thursday afternoon.

Premier Rachel Notley told a news conference that officials cannot speculate on when it might be safe for residents to return to the city except that “it will not be a matter of days.”

She said even when the fire situation is brought under control, officials will need time to assess buildings and infrastructure so that people can be brought back safely.

“I know this experience is heartbreaking … and a devastating experience for individuals and for the families that are affected,” she said. “I understand the Albertans that are affected by this tragedy are scared, and very tired, and very worried about their homes and what the future holds for themselves and their families.

“Trust us that we have your backs.”

Notley also said in coming days there will be more information about concrete aid for evacuees, including government-issued cash cards and temporary housing options.

She asked all evacuees “whether you’re in the reception centre or you’re staying in your friend’s rec room” to register themselves either online or by phoning the Red Cross, adding it is crucial to the province’s ability to assess what support everyone requires.

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The fire, which had been menacing the oilsands capital since the weekend, rode a rapid shift in winds Tuesday afternoon to cut through the city on an east-west axis. It divided the main road and sent 80,000 residents fleeing in opposite directions under a mandatory evacuation order.

Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 square kilometres Tuesday to 100 square kilometres on Wednesday. By Thursday it was almost nine times that at 850 square kilometres – roughly equivalent to the size of Calgary.

The fire remained wrapped around the west and southern edges of the city. If Fort McMurray were the face of a clock, flames surrounded it from the numbers four to 11.

Evacuees began their second full day out of their homes. Thousands remained in oilfield work camps north of the city, while the rest had moved south to stay in hotels, in campgrounds, with friends or in designated centres that included Edmonton.

By late afternoon, 4,000 people had been airlifted out of the camps, and the hope was to get another 8,000 out by end of day.

Scott Long with Alberta Emergency Management said it was too dangerous to begin an escorted convoy of evacuees out of the area along Highway 63, but officials were hoping to try again at first light Friday morning.

In preparation, gasoline trucks were being sent in Thursday to fuel up vehicles for the long trip through the city and to the south.

Fort McMurray is 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

The military was on standby, but had not been called in except for helicopter support to rescue stranded residents.

The fire has proven to be as capricious as it has been hellacious, leveraging high winds to level neighbourhoods in the south and southwest, transforming homes that once housed families into smoky wastelands of concrete, rebar and ash.

Crews have managed to save critical infrastructure, such as the downtown, the hospital and the water treatment plant.

Fire threatened the airport Wednesday, but Long said it sustained “mild damage” and was still in operation.

Officials said they have yet to determine what caused the fire, although they know it started in a remote area about 15 kilometres from the city.

There have been no reports of fire-related deaths or injuries.

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.

How big is the Fort McMurray fire?

Amanda Shendruk | posted Friday, May 6th, 2016

(This post has been updated)

One day, so much destruction. On Thursday morning Maclean’s published a series of maps showing Canadian and international cities superimposed with the burn area of the Fort McMurray fire. Those maps reflected the size of the fire as of 5 pm Alberta time on Wednesday. Yet by Thursday afternoon the government announced the fire area had increased dramatically to 85,000 hectares. Below are updated maps showing the original fire zone, marked by dotted lines, along with the burn area as it stood at 1 pm Alberta time. All indications are that it has grown much larger since.













6 tips for dealing with student debt

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Student debt

With thousands of students earning their degrees in the coming weeks, repaying student debt is top of mind. Bruce Sellery shares his top six tips for dealing with the pressure, managing your loans and repaying them in a timely manner.

1) Live like a student

It’s hard to control your income, but Bruce recommends that you try and control your spending. Start by avoiding “lifestyle inflation” and live within your financial means—instead of living on your own, live with roommates.

2) Write it all down

Keep track of your financial obligations, (e.g. student debt, credit card debt, loans to parents), and be aware of the terms of the loans, including the interest rate and the minimum payments you need for each.

Keep in mind that new Canadian regulations state that you don’t have to start repaying your student debt until you make $25,000 a year.

3) Look at your cash flow

Take a hard look at your cash flow to see how much money is coming in and what your fixed expenses are (rent, internet, transit etc.) to set achievable goals. How much can you realistically put towards debt? Look at the big picture: how much are you making on an annual basis to determine a financial plan to pay off debt.

4) Set it and forget it

Set up auto-transfers to various debts on your payday. Make a plan to meet the minimums every month, no matter what.

Avoid not paying your debt as this will affect your credit rating. If your payment goes to collections, it will be a hit to your rating that can take years to fix.

5) Build a buffer

In other words, save extra money that acts as a safeguard. This is also known as an emergency fund, rainy day fund, or back-up savings.

6) Put 10% of income towards debt

Take a percentage of your income to put towards debt. If you do not receive a yearly salary and are working cheque to cheque (e.g. freelancers, contract), take out 10% of each cheque and put it towards debt.

How to donate to Fort McMurray fire relief efforts

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, May 5th, 2016

You can donate $10 dollars to help the people in Fort McMurray when you text the word FIRES to 45678.

Other ways to donate:

  • Text the word REDCROSS to 30333 and a $5 donation will be added to your wireless bill
  • Text the word REDCROSS to 45678 and a $10 donation will be added to your wireless bill

Additionally, Rogers is partnering with Red Cross to support those affected by the Fort McMurray fires by waiving the cost of calls and texts to/from Fort McMurray to help our customers stay safe and in touch with loved ones. Rogers will also be donating $100,000 to Red Cross to help those affected by the Fort McMurray fires.

Rogers is the parent company of City and this website.

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.

Related stories:

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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.

Related stories:

Postal union expects Liberals will stay out of any labour dispute at Canada Post
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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.

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