A brief, challenging episode in my professional life was spent working with a team of people based in Fort McMurray. So it seems inevitable that my blog reflects on the frightening wildfire still burning around the city.
Fort McMurray is not the kind of place that expects to be the subject of world news headlines. Certainly, it is accustomed to being at the centre of the contentious debate about the exploitation of the Canadian Oil Sands but the city is not usually mentioned, outside of Alberta and Canada, except in passing. The mood of the city is mostly influenced by the seasons, the hockey and the price of crude oil.
All this changed overnight in the last week when the seasonal wildfires turned on the city and its inhabitants. Even now we know very little about the 90000 people that were forced to evacuate. A colleague posted pictures of an evacuation flight with as many dogs as people. The citizens of Fort McMurray are a resourceful lot. The climate and the industry they support make sure of that. Over the last 4 decades, the city and its oil-sands jobs have attracted people from many places and heritages; the First Nations, Eastern Canada, Newfoundland, from the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Europe and almost anywhere else you care to imagine. The multi-cultural mix that is modern Canada is amplified here.
So now the evacuees of the Fort McMurray have, without any warning or consultation, been forced onto a steep change curve. Bewilderment and disbelief were the immediate reactions.
For now, I am guessing the citizens of Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities are yet to experience the bottom of the change curve. A period of frustration and anger is probably setting in. The media will soon lose interest. The challenge for the government and community leaders is to find ways of accelerating the rebuilding effort, involving all those impacted and communicating relentlessly.