Far too early to rule out terrorism in the Fort McMurray fire

In the aftermath of the wildfire that burned through much of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, rumors have been floating that the fire may have been intentionally started for the specific purpose that it achieved.

Writing in the National Post, Tristin Hopper claims that he will be "[d]ebunking the Fort McMurray rumours: No, the fire wasn't started by ISIL, eco-terrorists or Rachel Notley." For a full debunking that the fire was certainly not started by eco-terrorists, one expects a rigorous analysis. Instead, we get the following weak effort:

"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.

Whether there are fake stories out there about the potential role of eco-terrorism in the fire is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not the fire was indeed the product of eco-terrorism. The Alberta oil sands are a much hated target on the left side of the political spectrum, both domestically and internationally.

And, in contrast to Hopper's naive views, it would have been fairly trivial to anticipate the potential for a fire to grow rapidly and potentially expand into town under the right conditions. The fire began on Sunday, May 1, and from there Jana Pruden at the Globe and Mail picks up the story:

The wildfire MWF-009 was first spotted by an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry crew on Sunday afternoon, and was logged just after 4 p.m. Its technical name signified it was the ninth wildfire of the season in the Fort McMurray area, the only one burning that day. Nothing was especially remarkable about it at first: 500 hectares burning in the trees southwest of the city. But the fire was already out of control, and wildfire officials knew they were on the edge of an exceedingly dangerous fire season. All the conditions for a catastrophic wildfire were present: Hot dry weather, high winds and low humidity, set within a dense boreal forest primed to burn. MWF-009 was also unsettling because of its proximity to the city, and it was already proving itself to be a difficult fight.

After Sunday, the situation only got much worse, very rapidly.

Note Pruden's statement that "[a]ll the conditions for a catastrophic wildfire were present: Hot dry weather, high winds and low humidity, set within a dense boreal forest primed to burn." This is an accurate assessment.

The Fort McMurray area had one of the driest winters on record, and during the last few days of April the winds were fairly high, temperatures were warm, and the mid-day relative humidity values were low -- on the order of 30% and below. These are, when coupled to the high fuel loading in the forest around the city, perfect conditions for an inferno.

Add to that the weather forecast for Sunday was warm and windy. It reached 25 C with 35 km/h winds. On Monday it hit 28 C, and on Tuesday the mercury reached 33 C with 72 km/h winds. The weather on late Sunday through Tuesday didn't come out of nowhere.

A terrorist watching the forecast late Saturday or early/mid-Sunday would see very hot and windy conditions occurring and predicted over the next few days. Such individuals may be evil, but they are not stupid. Whether or not the fire burned into town would depend on wind direction, but that's undoubtedly a chance a possible terrorist would take.

Light the fire under optimal conditions and see where it goes would be the plan. Even a fire that didn't burn into the city could be extremely disruptive, potentially requiring a large evacuation and being disruptive to nearby oil production. But more to the point, a major fire in the heart of the oil sands sends the desired symbol -- the so-called "karmic" effect -- to the global community.

Climate alarmists have been telling us for years that such fires will be the product of anthropogenic climate change. It's not unreasonable at all to postulate that a significant number of this activist community would be willing to light fires in order to support their narrative, and potentially permanently cripple the supposed "poster child" of climate change -- the Canadian oil sands.

The immediate economic impacts of the fire were profound. About 40% of oil sands production, in the neighborhood of one million barrels a day, was taken out temporarily by the fire, oil prices spiked, and Canada's economy will experience a non-trivial hit in 2016 from the event. Had the fire burned through the entire town, as a potential terrorist would have wanted, the impacts would have been far worse.

Arson is a common occurrence, and there are numerous examples of even firefighters setting fires for a range of reasons. The Pillow Pyro is not alone. On the morning of May 3, the day when the Fort McMurray fire began to rage, the newspaper from Alberta's capital published a story on firefighter arson. Interesting timing given what was about to take place in Fort Mac later that day as the fire tore into the city.

The cause of the Fort McMurray fire remains unknown, but experts say it was almost certainly human caused. It could have been accidental, such as a spark from a vehicle igniting dry roadside grass or a campfire left unattended. Or it could have been deliberate, be it from eco-terrorists or other malcontented organizations. ISIS benefits from higher oil prices that finance its operations, as do renewable energy proponents who are losing market share with cheap fossil fuel prices. Follow the money if the fire's beginnings look suspicious. But even that won't tell us the answer: it is not difficult -- in spite of our top-notch fire investigation teams -- to make a bushfire look accidental when it was not.

Consequently, we may never know the real cause of the fire, but nobody -- especially that low-quality site Snopes.com that Hopper wrongly claims is "[t]he internet's leading myth debunker" -- has yet to provide any convincing evidence either way that the fire was caused accidentally or intentionally. Absence of evidence is not, repeat not, evidence of absence. Last year, there were more than 8000 arson incidents in Canada. They are common. Far from engaging in the immature "conspiracy theory nut" rants, we need to keep all options open until further notice. In fact, when the liberal children start running around screaming conspiracy theory, that usually means the adults need to take a closer look in the direction of the cause being hidden by those attempting to shout down critical thinking.

If the Canadian national security establishment isn't already looking into the fire's cause, they should be. Send in the professionals. Just one year ago, we were reading reports that "an RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence." And now Fort McMurray nearly goes up in flames. Maybe the two are not connected, but then again, maybe they are.