Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Where There Is Smoke

Where there is smoke, there is fire – or so the adage goes. One early Monday morning this month, we saw a tragic house fire that destroyed four homes and took the life of a beloved family pet. It was one of those moments in my life here where my heart was actually in my throat as I realized this fire occurred on a street I know well, because it was my home for several years. It was a devastating moment in our community, and when the cause of the fire was revealed through the fire investigation another shock wave rippled through Fort McMurray.

A cigarette, not properly extinguished and improperly disposed, was the cause of a fire that left several people homeless.
There was, regrettably, some pointing of fingers of blame at those who smoke, understandable perhaps as anger accompanies such preventable tragedies. What I thought instead was how complacent we are about fire, given that many of us have a powerful fire risk in our backyards, and one that presents a significant potential cause of such devastating fires: fire pits.

I am not saying that the person who discarded the cigarette on Roy Lane is without blame – in fact I suspect whomever it was is already carrying a heavy burden of guilt and I will not add to it. I will say though that when I lived on that street what I feared was not cigarettes but the fire pits, as we were right on the forest edge and in spring and fall surrounded by dead and dry grass, the perfect conditions to spread a fire. Almost every house had a fire pit, and we were reliant on each other to ensure the fires we so enjoyed as friends and families were extinguished properly.
Before we begin blaming those who carelessly toss away a cigarette perhaps we should ask ourselves some hard questions about our own behaviour that puts ourselves – and our neighbours – at risk.

How many of us have had our permanent fire pits inspected by the fire department? When I had this done with mine they measured the distance to combustible materials. They advised me of issues I needed to address (the woodpile too close, the grate inadequate) and they told me that many people do not bother with this step with their fire pits. Each and every fire pit presents a strong risk factor in our own back yards, and yet it seems we are a bit lackadaisical about them.
How many of us have left a fire pit before it was properly extinguished? I am afraid I have seen this happen with neighbours, their fire pits roaring back into life after a late night and a few wobbly pops, them leaving it thinking they have doused it enough but not realizing some glowing embers have escaped their notice.

How many of us leave a fire pit unattended, even if just for a moment? Given that two houses were fully engulfed within minutes on Roy Lane we must recognize this can happen in moments, not hours.
A fire advisory has now been issued for Fort McMurray, and it seems we are headed into a warm, dry spring creating perfect conditions for fires, both wildfires and in an urban setting. We have now seen a second urban fire this spring, destroying another home and displacing two more families. The need for fire safety awareness has never been greater, and we have received a not-so-gentle reminder that we need to brush up on fire safety basics, from proper storage of flammable goods to thinking about those fire pits around which we love to spend long warm summer evenings.

We need to consider our own habits and realize that fires don't just happen to "someone else", they can happen to us - and adjust our behaviour accordingly. The recent fire on Roy Lane may have started with a cigarette, and the most recent one has a so-far undetermined cause - but where there is smoke, there is fire, and given we have a long season ahead of us filled with fire pits billowing clouds of smoke I would suggest now is a good time to give it some thought.

Roy Lane house fire, photo credit to

No comments:

Post a Comment