Myth-busting the wildfire: ISIL didn’t start it, the Red Cross isn’t scamming, eco-terrorists aren’t wreaking havoc

Myth-busting the wildfire: ISIL didn’t start it, the Red Cross isn’t scamming, eco-terrorists aren’t wreaking havoc

12 May 2016

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Canada — National Post columnist Tristin Hopper wants to set some things straight about the Fort McMurray wildfire situation.

With the dramatic opening stages of the Fort McMurray response now coming to a close, select corners of Alberta are catching their breath — and barraging the Internet with bizarre rumours, speculation and the occasional pointed finger. Coming directly after one of the most inspiring outpourings of generosity in Canadian history, it’s not a pretty sight. Below, find a round-up of the most common myths — and why they’re utter bull ploppy.

Air Canada price-gouged evacuees

It’s an irresistible story: Sweet, patriotic Calgary-owned WestJet moved heaven and earth to evacuate Fort McMurrayites for free, while those eastern skunks at Air Canada gouged fleeing citizens with predatory pricing.

WestJet did indeed spearhead a Herculean effort to get evacuees out of oil sands camps north of the city, with the costs covered by both themselves and Fort McMurray-area oil companies.

But Air Canada did not impose any kind of disaster premium on evacuees booking flights out of Alberta. Ticket buyers were simply getting the same inflated price as anyone who books an Air Canada flight with only a few hours notice. “This was a result of Air Canada’s computerized revenue management system, which automatically manages fares,” wrote the airline in a statement.

Rachel Notley doomed Fort McMurray by slashing the firefighting budget

In a PR nightmare for the ages, Premier Rachel Notley did indeed slash $5.3-million from the Alberta firefighting budget only weeks before the most devastating forest fire in the province’s history. But the cut was an accounting cock-up, rather than a real-world kneecapping of Alberta’s firefighters.

Firefighting money is emergency funding; it’s virtually unlimited in times of disaster.

What the budget did was lowball what the final bill was going to be when the firefighting season ended. Water tanker contracts were shortened, but that won’t come into play until August.

And fire preparation budgets did take a small hit, but when it comes to a fire that can jump the Athabasca River, there’s only so much a few more fire breaks could have done — particularly when the budget was only tabled last month.

The Red Cross is getting rich off Fort McMurray

Even when every official in Alberta is urging people to put relief efforts towards long-term Red Cross-managed funds, many staunchly refuse based on the belief that the Red Cross are soulless, bureaucratic tragedy profiteers who will ship the Fort McMurray donations to Syria.

“They’ll take all that money else where in the world,” reads a typical comment.

This week, the Alberta branch of the Red Cross told CBC that 95% of the now-$60 million donation pool will go directly to Fort McMurray relief efforts. That’s still $3 million going towards processing the donations, but the Red Cross is uniquely on guard against perceptions that it is squirrelling away disaster money. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the charity faced one of the largest PR disasters in its history after it tried to bank some of the overwhelming number of donations for a fund that would benefit the “victims of tomorrow.”

This doesn’t mean that Alberta shouldn’t be keeping the Red Cross’ feet to the fire, however.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, for instance, a devastating ProPublica investigation found that the American Red Cross wasted food, mismanaged volunteers and used needed emergency vehicles for press conferences.

Russia could stop the fire if only Justin Trudeau would let them

The Russian Federation, the world leader in ridiculously oversized aircraft, has pledged for Fort McMurray a handful of Ilyushin Il-76 firefighting aircraft capable of dumping “42 tons of fire retardant into fire spots.” Ottawa, however, turned them down.

While it’s nice to think that Vladimir Putin could simply sucker punch the Fort McMurray fire back to hell, Prime Minister Trudeau is almost certainly taking his orders on this file from first responders on the ground. One of the most difficult parts of fighting a forest fire is coordinating smoky skies filled with low-flying helicopters and water bombers.

It’s why, over the past few years often the only fatalities in major fires have come about due to air crashes. Jamming in a bunch of Russian-speaking pilots who don’t know the terrain might help douse a few fire lines, but it could also get people killed.

Trudeau doesn’t care about Alberta because he has waited more than a week to tour the fire zone

Normally, Alberta is the part of Canada most nauseated by Justin Trudeau photo ops. And yet, more than a week after the Fort McMurray evacuation order, the Prime Minister is now being pilloried as an Alberta-hater because he hasn’t yet touched down in wildrose country.

These critics may underestimate the overwhelming logistics of getting a prime minister into an active disaster area. Escorts need to be arranged, schedules need to be approved, and frontline workers need to be diverted to act as guides. It’s for this reason that politicians are typically pilloried for doing the exact opposite of what Trudeau is doing.

In the midst of devastating 1996 floods in Manitoba, for instance, Prime Minister Jean Chretien quickly helicoptered into a South Winnipeg neighbourhood, was handed a sandbag by a volunteer and attracted prairie-wide outrage when he responded “what do you want me to do with it?”

The Red Cross are turning away evacuees who “make too much money”

The roots of this rumour is a Monday Facebook a post out of Gander, N.L., that has attracted more than 1,200 shares. “The red cross are turning people away who have home owners insurance or ‘make to much money’ (sic)” it reads.

The first flaw in this post is that it assumes that evacuees are being asked to pull out their T4s and home insurance contracts whenever they register at Red Cross-run centres. They aren’t.

Secondly, the evacuated Wood Buffalo area is home to some of the highest household incomes in Canada. The relief effort wouldn’t be getting tremendously far if it started screening out high earners.

This is not to say that some evacuees aren’t feeling slighted by the Red Cross, but it’s not due to any official mandate. Strange things can happen when sleep-deprived Red Cross volunteers are trying to sort out tens of thousands of sleep-deprived evacuees.

Eco-activists started the fire

“Eco-Terrorism suspected in Ft.Mcmurray fire,” reads the headline in a screenshot of a fake CBC News story cruising around Facebook on Monday.

The image is a complete fabrication.

Fort McMurray is misspelled, for one, and the author of the story is listed as “Mark Lamoureu” a garbled take on the name of actual CBC web writer Mack Lamoureux.

“If you’re going to make a fake story with my name on it please have the decency of spelling it correctly,” wrote Lamoureux in a Tweet.

There’s also the simple fact that lighting Fort McMurray on fire isn’t as easy as it looks. MWF-009, the fire that swept through Fort McMurray, was only one of several fires that started in the Fort McMurray area three days before the evacuation order. Even the most diabolical eco-terrorist could not possibly have anticipated the perfect combination of dry conditions and high winds that would have turned MWF-009 into a firestorm.

Random arsonists are roaming Fort McMurray

This rumour actually attracted RCMP attention.

Alerted by the possibility that a shadowy arsonist was gleefully setting an empty Fort McMurray alight, workers in the area were asked to keep on guard for lone wanderers.

The mysterious fires that prompted the rumour were later found to be flaring up hotspots, a common phenomenon in forest fires.

Also, Fort McMurray is a remote city now populated almost exclusively by police, utility workers and firefighters just waiting to get their hands on a suspected arsonist. If some fire starter was roaming the oilsands capital, he wouldn’t get far — although the jury may still be out on a suspicious Prairie Creek fire suspected of being a case of insurance fraud.

ISIL started the fire

Easily the most idiotic rumour started in the wake of the Fort McMurray fire.

This week, the website ran with the recklessly unsourced allegation that a man with purported ISIL connections had taken responsibility for the fire. Their evidence? A comment on by a “Yannie Znayew.”

“Ha! With a few more matches, maybe me and the rest of my NDP socialist buddies can bring the tar sands industry to its knees,” it read. Not exactly a smoking gun, particularly since the name “Yannie Znayew” sounds suspiciously like the Russian phrase for “I don’t know.”

To be clear: The cause of the fire is unknown, Yannie Znayew is a fabrication and this isn’t the first time ConservativeFans has gone viral with verifiably incorrect fear mongering.

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