Category Archives: Saskatchewan Canada

CBC NEWS: Fort McMurray fire spreads north and east, destroys some oilsands facilities

Repost from CBC News, Edmonton
[Editor: For latest updates, see The Fort McMurray fire: What’s happening now, and what you’ve missed, the Globe and Mail.  – RS]

Fort McMurray fire grows to 423,000 hectares, continues to threaten oilsands sites

Wildfire stalls near Saskatchewan border but continues spread north to oilsands facilities
May 18, 2016 9:08 AM MT Last Updated: May 18, 2016 1:20 PM MT
An aerial view of the flames roaring north of Fort McMurray on Tuesday afternoon.
An aerial view of the flames roaring north of Fort McMurray on Tuesday afternoon. (Phoenix Heli-Flight)

The Fort McMurray wildfire in northern Alberta is carving a new path of destruction, destroying an oilsands camp while racing eastward toward more industry sites.

The fire, which has become known as “the beast,” has grown by a staggering 57,000 hectares [220 square miles] in the last 24 hours, consuming 423,000 [1633 square miles] hectares of boreal forest as of Wednesday morning.

Wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather attributes the “pretty significant” growth to “extreme fire conditions.”

“It’s really being burning intensely and the winds have been carrying it,” he said Wednesday.

The fire forced 8,000 non-essential workers to flee the area Monday night, and a mandatory evacuation order remains in place for all work camps north of the city.

The majority were sent by ground to work camps near Fort MacKay, about 53 kilometres [33 miles] to the north. But some were also bused, or later flown, south to Edmonton and Calgary.

By Tuesday morning, the flames had made their way to the Blacksand Executive Lodge, which provides accommodations to hundreds of workers in the area.

The building’s sprinkler system was no match for the raging inferno, and all 665 units of the building were consumed by the fire.

 Noralta Buffalo Lodge
Workers evacuate the Noralta Buffalo Lodge, 26 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray, late Monday afternoon. (Justin Bourke)

Within hours, the flames had spread east, threatening the Noralta Lodge Fort McMurray Village, a facility that can house more than 3,000 people, and Horizon North’s Birch Mountain, a 540-unit facility.

Noralta officials took to social media Tuesday night to say the fire had been held back, but the site was still at risk and crews would be working through the night to protect the facility.

Six kilometres [3.7 miles] away from the Blacksand Lodge, the Birch Mountain Lodge, also owned by Horizon North, remains in the path of the fire.

“We’ve got eight camps in a perimeter around Fort McMurray, out of seven which have been evacuated,” Rod Graham, president and CEO of Horizon North, told CBC News on Wednesday.

“We have not sent any of our people into harm’s way, but from unconfirmed reports we’ve had, our Birch property is still standing.”

The wind was also expected to push the fire towards the Suncor and Syncrude oilsands facilities, but the province said both are highly resilient to fire.

Each site is surrounded by wide barriers of cleared firebreak and gravel and are guarded by their own firefighting crews. However, only essential personnel remain at both plants.

Crews in the area continue to work around the clock to douse the flames and create firebreaks around critical infrastructure, but the fire has become increasingly volatile amid high winds and tinder-dry conditions.

“Over the last 48 hours it has certainly grown significantly, particularly along the eastern edge, growing toward the Saskatchewan border, but also growing north toward the oilsands facilities,” said Bruce Macnab, with the Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton.

“In these kind of conditions, the fire crews will be doing their best to fight the sides of the fire when conditions allow, but that’s very much weather dependent.”

By noon Wednesday, the eastern front of the fire appeared to be stalled about five kilometres [3 miles] from the Saskatchewan border. The government there has established a wildfire base camp in the small community of Buffalo Narrows to use air tankers and helicopters along the eastern edge of the massive fire.

But Duane McKay, Saskatchewan’s commissioner of emergency and fire safety, said smoke is the biggest concern for residents of the nearest community, La Loche, which is about 20 kilometres [12.4 miles] from the border.

The fire itself poses no current threat to the town or any other Saskatchewan communities, McKay said.

He said the wind is expected to shift directions later today and could blow the fire back on itself.

“We don’t anticipate it crossing the border in the near future,” he said. But he cautioned that the fire “obviously has a mind of its own in terms of where it wants to go.”

fire map
A map from Natural Resources Canada shows the extent of the Fort McMurray wildfire fire as of May 17. (Natural Resources Canada)
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    Saskatchewan train derailment cars same as those in Lac-Megantic disaster

    Repost from The Globe and Mail

    Saskatchewan train derailment cars same as those in Lac-Megantic disaster

    WADENA, Sask. — The Canadian Press, Oct. 09 2014
    A CN freight train carrying dangerous goods is shown after it derailed in central Saskatchewan, near the towns of Wadena and Clair, on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. (Alison J. Squires/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
    A CN freight train carrying dangerous goods is shown after it derailed in central Saskatchewan, near the towns of Wadena and Clair, on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. (Alison J. Squires/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

    CN Rail says the tanker cars that derailed and caught fire this week near a small community in Saskatchewan are the same type as those involved in the Lac Megantic disaster last year.

    Jim Feeny says the Class DOT-111 rail cars are owned by shippers or leasing companies and CN has no choice but to accept them.

    Almost three-quarters of the tanker cars used in North America are 111s.

    Feeny says regulators on both sides of the border have laid out a time frame to replace the older cars, but it will take time.

    “We are on record as favouring a very aggressive phase-out of the older model DOT-111s, but we are required to accept these cars at this point,” Feeny told radio station CKRM Thursday.

    “We are required to operate them. We have no choice in that matter. We are calling on the industry and the federal government to phase them out, but the fact is, there are many of them, and it will take time to do this.”

    Both CN and CP have said they are already phasing out or retrofitting their fleet.

    Dozens of people had to leave their homes this week in Clair, Sask., and surrounding area when 26 cars derailed and two of them carrying petroleum distillate caught fire.

    Forty-seven people were killed when a runaway train carrying crude oil barrelled down a hill, derailed and exploded in downtown Lac Megantic in July 2013.

    The Association of American Railroads has recommended that the 111s used to transport flammable liquids be retrofitted or phased out and wants a reinforced standard for new tank cars.

    The 111 car is considered the workhorse of the North American fleet and makes up about 70 per cent of all tankers on the rails. The cars have a service life of between 30 and 40 years.

    Since October 2011, all new tanker cars have been built to safer specifications. But there is a long backlog on new car orders because there are only a handful of manufacturers in North America.

    A government-commissioned report has said there are about 228,000 DOT-111 cars in service throughout North America. About 92,000 of them carry flammable liquids.

    About 26,000 reinforced models have been put into service and that’s expected to rise to 52,500 next year.

    Adam Scott, a spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said Canada has seen an exponential growth in the amount of oil travelling by rail.

    “The rail system was not designed with public safety in mind for that much oil,” said Scott, who added that the DOT-111 cars are generally used.

    “They have well-documented safety problems,” he said. “They are very thin and in crashes they do tend to leak and explode.”

    Scott said freight rail lines “actually go right through the centre of almost every major urban centre in the entire country including small towns … so the risk of accidents is significant.”

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      Rachel Maddow: Train explosion, collision (DRAMATIC VIDEO)

      Repost from MSNBC, Rachel Maddow Show
      [Editor: Incredible video footage of two early October train crashes, and excellent Rachel Maddow commentary.  (Live video of the train crash at minute 2:10.)  Apologies for the 20-second commercial ad that precedes the video.  – RS]

      Train explosion, collision demonstrate oil shipping dangers

      Rachel Maddow, 10/07/14


      Rachel Maddow reports on a train derailment and subsequent fire in Canada, which follows on the heels of a dramatic train crash in Louisiana as the oil and rail industries try to push back the deadline for new federal safetly requirements.

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        LATEST DERAILMENT: Train derails in Canada; oil spill, explosion; village evacuated

        Repost from The Canadian Press
        [Editor: Every source I can find uses the phrase “petroleum distillates,” but no source further identifies the substance that caught fire and exploded.  Is this a “news blackout”?  …OCTOBER 8 UPDATE (CBC News) “According to the provincial government, of the six cars carrying hazardous materials, two had sodium hydroxide and two had hydrochloric acid. The other two had petroleum distillates, which included a Varsol-type substance.” …Still pretty sketchy. 

        Later follow-up reports:

        Saskatchewan derailment cars same as Lac Megantic MetroNews CanadaOct 9, 2014  WADENA, Sask. – CN Rail says the tanker cars that derailed and caught fire this week near a small community in Saskatchewan are the same type as those …

        Saskatchewan derailment reveals Canada’s broken-rail problems CBC.caOct 10, 2014  Saskatchewan derailment reveals Canada’s broken-rail problems … looking at state of tracks, equipment · Major train derailment and fire near Wadena, Sask.

        – RS]

        Train derails in central Saskatchewan; village evacuated

        By Clare Clancy, October 7, 2014
        Saskatchewan train derailment
        A CN freight train carrying dangerous goods derailed in central Saskatchewan, near the town of Wadena, on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (The Canadian Press/Liam Richards)

        WADENA, Sask. — A CN freight train carrying dangerous goods derailed in central Saskatchewan Tuesday sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air and displacing residents of a tiny nearby hamlet.

        The derailment happened near the community of Clair, which has a population of about 50. Police told those people to leave their homes and also evacuated farms near the scene.

        CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the train was made up of three locomotives pulling 100 rail cars and that 26 of them derailed.

        He said the fire came from petroleum distillates, which spilled from two of the derailed cars.

        The fire had “diminished” as of Tuesday evening, Feeny said, but was still burning.

        Clair is about 190 kilometres east of Saskatoon near the community of Wadena.

        Alison Squires, who is the publisher of the Wadena News, went to the fire and said she has never seen anything like it in the 13 years she has lived in the area.

        “I’ve seen derailments, but this is a pretty bad one,” she said. “You could see … this huge plume of black smoke. When I got there, there was a small explosion. The smoke is too thick to see what cars are involved.”

        She added that there was a detour going north to pass the derailment, but not one going south.

        “They are assuming the smoke is toxic,” she said.

        A witness told radio station CKOM that the flames were at least 30 meters high at one point.

        “The smoke is blowing from west to east and there is quite a bit of it,” Peter Baran told the station as he watched the fire from a highway.

        Pictures from the scene suggested the derailment took place in a sparsely populated area. They showed the smoke billowing high into the sky.

        The Transportation Safety Board said it was deploying a team of investigators to the site. CN sent in a hazardous materials team to clean up the area.

        The railway industry has been under increased scrutiny since July 2013, when 47 people died after a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que.

        Adam Scott, a spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said Canada is experiencing a boom in the use of railways to transport petroleum products.

        “The freight rail lines actually go right through the centre of almost every major urban centre in the entire country including small towns, communities across the country, so the risk of accidents is significant,” he said.

        “The government has introduced measures, but they don’t go nearly far enough in terms of safety.”

        He said rail companies are not required to publicly disclose the types of hazardous materials being transported on trains.

        “It’s unacceptable,” he said. “The municipalities themselves, the communities have no power, no control, and in this case no information even over what’s being run through the rail lines.”

        In August, the Transportation Safety Board issued a report into the Lac-Megantic tragedy that called for improved safety measures and cited inadequate oversight by Transport Canada. One of the criticisms brought forward was a lack of inspections.

        Harry Gow, president of advocacy group Transport Action Canada, said the derailment in Saskatchewan shows the need for more inspectors.

        “I would say that if one wants to ensure safety in moving hazardous goods, one has to have inspectors who are empowered to do the work, that are trained to do more than just check the company’s paperwork, and are sufficiently numerous and well-resourced to get out on the ground and see what’s going on,” he said.

        “The incident in Saskatchewan today is fortunately not occurring in a large town,” he said. “But that doesn’t excuse the lack of oversight by Transport Canada.”

         

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