“When Environment Canada issues an air quality warning for the Wood Buffalo region stating air quality index scale goes from 1-10 and the reading tells you it’s 38, you put the gas mask on tight,” said Len Raymond, a Canada-based Crawford Global Technical Services® adjuster.
GTS™ adjusters have braved horrific conditions in Fort McMurray, Canada, after devastating wildfires swept through this remote area during May. Len was photographed on Monday, 16 May, at Fort McMurray wearing his half mask, which is fitted with N100 cartridges to catch airborne particulates and harmful gases. The sepia-toned backdrop of a deserted town is behind him.
Len was part of the 8,000-strong re-evacuation on May 5 and has since returned as part of a team of four to assess damage on behalf of the region’s school boards.
“The air quality is getting better, but it’s still off the scale,” he said. “Visibility has been so poor you can only see a few hundred yards in any direction. The sun is regularly blocked by the smoke in the air. We have to wear this type of protective gear; otherwise it would be impossible to work.”
Len and his Rapid Assessment Technical Team remain on a two-hour evacuation notice should conditions deteriorate; however, they have begun work and are making progress. On behalf of this school board customer, no fewer than 30 schools and support buildings in the area of Fort McMurray, Anzac, Janvier and Fort MacKay—with one million square feet of facilities—are being checked over.
“There were two schools directly in the path of the fire and have suffered fire damage themselves,” Len said. “For the others, smoke damage is a greater issue. Thankfully, their management had the foresight to switch off air intakes on their climate control systems, so that will have reduced the amount of fumes sucked into buildings. Nevertheless, there will be a huge clean-up job, and they will certainly not reopen until the next academic year at the earliest.”
From an insurance claims perspective, losses will occur on property policies for smoke damage, while business interruption will be a likely cause of loss in commercial lines as business remains at a standstill for this region of 90,000 inhabitants.
“The clean-up programme is going to be a big challenge,” Len said. “The sheer amount of food spoilage as fridges and freezers lost power has led to an overpowering smell, which you can’t see in the pictures. Not only this, but black bears are emerging, hungry from their hibernation, and we’ve already witnessed one or two rooting through the buffet of uncollected garbage left on the streets before the evacuation…but the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has been working hard to remove anything that would draw the bears into the urban areas.”
Coupled with the environmental challenges, the Rapid Assessment Technical Team also has to live and work in a remote area where sites are separated by vast distances.
“We’re hoping when it’s safe we can move to some of the oil sands camps, which are being recommissioned and are less than a two-hour drive from Fort McMurray,” Len said. “We were staying at a lodge about 30 minutes away when we were forced to evacuate with 8,000 workers in the area, with our team abandoning half of the equipment. To reach Fort McMurray from Edmonton, we’re driving four hours each way. This demonstrates the distances we have to travel to even reach the fire area.
“Resources are scarce in the region. We are required to carry in our own fuel for our vehicles since all of the gas stations are closed. To reduce the number of vehicles in the area our team split into pairs. Each team had two vehicles in case one of the vehicles breaks down. I expect the team will remain on this project for some time, but it’s essential to restore this community and its infrastructure so that people can go home to rebuild their lives.”