30 days of Wildfire


1 May 2016 - 1 June 2016. Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Width of video is approximately 150 kms. This video has been made from satellite imagery from NASA worldview


The boreal forest is the earths largest land biome. The vast woodland formed at the time of the Wisconsin Glacial Episode. The following 10,000-year period of relative climatic stability, fire is a central element to cleanse and renew. Fire accounts for the diverse patchwork mosaic of trees and plant species here.

In the current conditons of accelerated change in climate there is significant concern about the how quickly the forest can adapt, how fire has increased under anthropogenic conditions and what the resulting feedback loops will create. From an earth science perspective, the boreal forest is now one of 18 subsystems within the earth system which sit on a tipping point. Recent protracted drier, hotter summers are creating conditions that influence wildfire frequency and severity.


The fire destroyed 2,400 structures and 665 work camp units, nearly 10 per cent of the city, when it ripped through in May and forced more than 88,000 residents to flee. There were no direct fatalities.

About 2,000 evacuees in the heavily damaged neighbourhoods of Beacon Hill, Abasand and Waterways won’t be able to return because at the time authorities have concluded it is not yet safe. The mayor has voiced doubts as to whether or not they will ever be rebuilt.

Temperature: The fire was burning at between 800 C and 1,000 C

Speed: ‘The fire was likely moving at a speed of up to five kilometres per hour and quickly became difficult to manage.’

Total Burned Area: The fire spread across an estimated 600,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) at its height.


The May 2016 fire caused the largest mass evacuation in Canadian history. 88,000 of the city’s 90,000 residents were forced to leave. Beacon Hill, Abasand and Waterways were the neighborhoods worst affected. The destruction overwhelmingly affected homes, with civic and industrial buildings coming out mostly unscathed. The total damages are estimated have cost somewhere between £4-9 billion, with approximately £4.6 billion of insurance money expected to be paid out. Fu

It has also been projected that this wildfire will likely be the most costly insurable loss in Canada’s history, exceeding the 2013 southern Alberta flooding and the 1998 Ontario/Quebec ice storm, and will also be among the costliest wildfires in the world.

The fire burned out of control for into Saskatchewan, and was eventually declared ‘under control’ on July 5th, 2016, almost a month after it began.


I acknowledge that, framed within the context of global energy, Alberta’s fossil fuel resources and supply of crude oil are part of a complex global exchange mechanism that supplies infrastructure and products to the major and minor metropolitan areas of the globe. e crude is subsequently consumed, releasing further GHG, or processed into a multitude of manifestations including plastic, roads and paint. I received abundant welcomes and experienced open receptions throughout Canada, and this project is no judgement on the good people that I met along the way or those who live in Fort McMurray and seek a better life for themselves and their families.


The full project contains 160 colour photographs, a 3,000-word essay, a journal entry, a 20-page dossier, contaminated human hair samples and sound recordings.

All photographs were taken between 15 October and 15 November 2016; and between 14 and 28 February 2017.



For further information on this project please contact Matt Shonfeld at The Story Institute by email here.

All images © Alan McFetridge