Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sands Through the Canadian Hourglass

It's the days of our lives, folks:

Wildfires cause chaos in Canada oil sands town

"88,000 people evacuated after raging wildfire hits Canadian city" by Ian Austen New York Times  May 04, 2016

OTTAWA, Ontario — Walls of flame driven by strong, shifting winds raged out of control Wednesday in and around the evacuated city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, where firefighters were helpless to stop the destruction and where about 88,000 people had fled their homes.

“To date, the fire has resisted all suppression efforts,” Bernie Schmidt, an Alberta forestry official, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “This is a very complex fire, with multiple fronts and explosive conditions.”

Rachel Notley, the premier of the province, said that at least 1,600 buildings had been destroyed. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but the danger was far from over.

“This is a really dirty fire,” Darby Allen, the regional fire chief for the area, said on the conference call. “There are certainly areas within the city which have not been burned, but this fire will look for them, and it will take them.”

The entire population of Fort McMurray, the main center for Canada’s oil sands region, was ordered to evacuate on Tuesday evening once the fire, which began in woodlands outside the city, had overwhelmed firefighters’ efforts to hold it at bay. Cars and trucks jammed the only route out of the city, Highway 63, which runs north to the oil-sands work camps and south to Edmonton, the nearest sizable city, 270 miles away.

As the road became gridlocked, it took motorists five hours or longer to cover 12 miles to evacuation centers at the work camps. And southbound travel was impossible for several hours Tuesday when flames blocked the highway. Some motorists took to Highway 63’s grassy median and even drove the wrong way on the opposite side in hopes of escaping the city faster.

Jasmin Herold, a German filmmaker who has lived in Fort McMurray for the last two years, had a harrowing time getting out. Like many in the city, she said she thought the worst of the fire had passed when Tuesday dawned bright and sunny. But when the smoke returned in midafternoon, she gathered up her dog, her notes, laptop and hard drives with documentary footage and jumped into a small Toyota sedan with her boyfriend, Michael Beamish.

Getting from her neighborhood to Highway 63, normally a two-minute drive, took an hour and a half, Herold said in an interview, and all the while “through the back, I saw the flames reaching for our area.” Highway 63 was jam-packed, so they tried local roads to get to the south end of town, and found themselves driving through a tunnel of fire.

“It was hot in the car, very hot — I thought maybe this was it for us,” she said. With little choice, they pressed on, she said, and finally “went up a hill and into sunshine again.”

The southbound highway was littered with abandoned cars, trucks and buses. The evacuation had drained Fort McMurray of gasoline, and many motorists ran out of fuel in the clog of traffic fleeing the city. The jams had cleared by Wednesday afternoon, and gasoline tanker trucks began patrolling the highway to refuel stranded vehicles.

Hundreds of firefighters were in Fort McMurray on Wednesday, with more on the way, but many of them were standing by, waiting for a chance to go into action. Helicopters and airplanes dropped water and chemical suppressants, but the speed of the fire’s progress and frequent shifts in its direction have so far made it too dangerous to tackle it from the ground, said Laura Stewart, a spokeswoman for the provincial government.

As the fire spread into the city, reporters and witnesses said, the sound of exploding propane tanks filled the air. The downtown business district of Fort McMurray was still largely undamaged Wednesday, but several businesses on its fringes were destroyed, including a gas station and a hotel, and there were signs that the fire was once again headed its way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that he had pledged the national government’s “total support” for the firefighting efforts, aid for evacuees and other needs during a telephone call with Notley, the premier, who flew to Fort McMurray on Wednesday. Trudeau said offers of support from local governments across Canada had been pouring in as well.

“Canada is a country where we look out for our neighbors,” Trudeau said in Ottawa, where he was meeting with lawmakers of his party.

The defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, told reporters on a conference call that the military was prepared to offer whatever assistance was requested. Alberta is home to several large military bases.

Most of Fort McMurray’s oil sands operations are north of the city and well outside the likely path of the fire. Ian D. Gates, chairman of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary, said that it was unlikely that the oil sands deposits underground would be affected, but that the bitumen in oil sands already at the surface, exposed by mining or erosion, might burn if a sufficiently hot wildfire were to reach them.

Thousands of oil sands workers live in other parts of Canada and commute by air to the region for a few weeks’ work at a time, sleeping in company-owned or leased work camps between shifts. Several oil companies shut down or curtailed operations and flew employees out to make room in their camps for evacuees.

The city’s airport remained open Wednesday, but only for a limited number of departing civilian flights. Meanwhile, military aircraft arrived carrying emergency personnel and supplies. WestJet, a major Canadian airline, brought in aircraft Tuesday to evacuate more than 100 patients from Fort McMurray’s hospital.

Stewart, the provincial spokeswoman, said the immediate cause of the fire, which started over the weekend, was still unknown. But she added that the winter and spring had been unusually dry and warm, parching the forests that surround the city. The weather this week has been unseasonably hot, with temperatures Tuesday reaching about 90 degrees Fahrenheit — rare in Fort McMurray even at the peak of summer — with relative humidity of just 13 percent.

Fire and emergency services officials said that shifting winds and continued high temperatures could increase the size of the fire, which covered about 25,000 acres as of Wednesday morning.

Satellite thermal images showed that the fire jumped a river Wednesday and was curling back toward downtown Fort McMurray, on one hand, and toward the city’s airport and an industrial park on the other. Firefighters spent Tuesday night clearing fire breaks near the industrial park and airport, but the intensity of the fire made it unclear whether those efforts would have any success.

Notley, the provincial premier, said that officials were holding off on flooding the area with assistance until the shape of the fire becomes clearer and the unseasonably hot weather turns cooler, which may help make the fire less destructive.

“Your first thought is to say: ‘Get more people, get more stuff, go, go, go,” Notley said, but that approach could cause added danger and hamper firefighting work by clogging the city’s small airport. Instead, she said, the province has been concentrating on sending specially trained firefighters and specialized equipment in from other parts of the province.

David Martell, a professor in the Fire Management Systems Laboratory of the University of Toronto, said that large forest fires are effectively impossible to fight in hot, dry conditions, because they can shoot out flames more than a mile ahead of their fronts. All that crews can do right now, he said, is prepare plans and resources to “really go in and hammer it” when the weather changes.


Look who needs a light:

"Vancouver fights opioid crisis with prescriptions for addicts" by Dan Levin New York Times  April 21, 2016

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Dave Napio started doing heroin over four decades ago, at 11 years old. Like many addicts these days, he heads to Vancouver’s gritty Downtown Eastside neighborhood when he needs a fix.

But instead of seeking out a dealer in a dark alley, Napio, 55, gets his three daily doses from a nurse at Crosstown Clinic, the only medical facility in North America permitted to prescribe the narcotic at the center of an epidemic raging across the continent.

And instead of robbing banks and jewelry stores to support his habit, Napio is spending time making gold and silver jewelry, hoping to soon turn his hobby into a profession. 

How do you think I got here

Hobby turned addictive (and unpaid) profession.

Napio is one of 110 chronic addicts with prescriptions for diacetylmorphine hydrochloride, the active ingredient in heroin, which he injects three times a day at Crosstown as part of a treatment known as heroin maintenance. The program has been so successful at keeping addicts out of jail and away from emergency rooms that its supporters are seeking to expand it across Canada.

The clinic’s prescription program began as a clinical trial, but it has garnered more interest recently as a plague of illicit heroin use and fatal overdoses of legal painkillers has swept across the United States, fueling frustration over ideological and legal obstacles to forms of treatment that studies show halt the spread of disease through needles and prevent deaths.

Canada and some European countries have long permitted needle exchanges and monitored injection sites. Prescription programs like Crosstown’s, for addicts whom replacement drugs like methadone do not seem to help, have been available for years in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. All these countries have reported significant decreases in drug abuse, crime, and disease.

But such programs have been stymied in the United States, where overdoses have lately led to 125 deaths per day, by concerns that they would encourage illicit drug use.

I don't know how much more "encouragement" they need (their addicted), and talk about ongoing casualties!

What I notice here is there is no effort to discover who (CIA) is smuggling in most of the $hit, or where the proceeds are being launder (too big to fail banks), it's just on showing compassion and treating addicts with sympathy (as opposed to people who need medical marijauna; then it's a problem that comes with hoops before you can toke) with the usual suspects (and not!) benefitting on the back end.

It's a “the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with ongoing [investment] stability [as] the financials of the project are strong [and] the cash flow is going to be strong, [even if] the need for financial returns will drive down the quality of care at for-profit facilities that may be forced to cut back on care or raise prices.”

And it is a highly captive audience, you know? 

They addicted!

In February, the mayor of Ithaca, N.Y., was criticized by some Republican officials, rehabilitation professionals, and police officers after he proposed to establish the country’s first supervised injection facility.

With a white flag waving from the rooftop.

Authorities in Vancouver say they turned to such programs after more traditional criminal justice approaches failed to stop rampant illegal drug use and sales on the Downtown Eastside, a poor neighborhood notorious for addiction and crime. 

Have they simply gone and legalized the poison, or.... ???

“We tried to arrest our way out of it and that didn’t work,” Sergeant Randy Fincham of the Vancouver Police Department explained. “Clogging up our courts and jails was not the solution.”


“We’re spending dollars to collect nickels when it comes to fines,” Harnais said. He also embraced Gants’s proposals for sentencing reforms. “You have to think outside the box,” he said. “Just putting people in jail isn’t working.” 

Even though the guy in the photo belongs in one.

Also see:

"The state’s highest court says that the closure of a sweat lodge at a state prison violates federal law and an agreement settling a previous lawsuit. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday in the case of Randall Trapp and Robert Ferreira, who it said were “adherents of Native American religious practices” who were incarcerated in state prisons. The complaint alleged that the closure of the “purification lodge” at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000."

Sorry you had to sweat that one out.

The city started, in 2003, with North America’s first legal injection facility, InSite, which currently serves around 800 people each day. The addicts bring their own drugs, and InSite provides clean needles and medical supervision. The organization has recorded no fatal overdoses on its premises, and said overdoses near the facility have decreased by 35 percent since 2003, compared with a 9 percent decrease throughout Vancouver.

But then the makers of Narcan will be deprived of bu$ine$$.

More broadly, a study by the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that people who use safe injection sites are 30 percent more likely to enter detox programs and 70 percent less likely to share needles.

Legal injection sites do not, however, address the thefts, prostitution, and other criminal behavior that participants often rely on to finance their addiction. And heroin sold on the street is often combined with — or surreptitiously replaced by — fentanyl, an opioid up to 50 times as potent that was a cause or contributing factor in 655 deaths across Canada between 2009 and 2014, according to the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse.

That answers my question from above. Can't buy at store.

Participants in the Crosstown prescription program do not have to worry about the purity of their drugs.

At this point the high from the web version takes hold. 

To get a diacetylmorphine prescription from the clinic, patients must have participated in two earlier clinical trials on heroin maintenance, whose eligibility requirements included more than five years of injecting opioids and at least two failed attempts at replacement therapy, one of which with a treatment such as methadone.

The diacetylmorphine prescription program is one of several addiction-treatment services at Crosstown, a squat gray clinic that opened in 2005. The publicly funded program costs about 27,000 Canadian dollars, or $21,000, per addict per year. (The Journal of the Canadian Medical Association published a study in 2012 that estimated that an untreated, severe opioid user costs taxpayers at least $35,000 a year in medical care, jail and other expenses.)

Patients can visit the clinic up to three times a day, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. They enter through a security door and fill a white-walled waiting area before taking seats in the injection room, where nurses give them a needle and an average dose of 200 milligrams of diacetylmorphine. The process takes a few minutes, but the effect is profound.

“We’ve seen people make dramatic changes in their lives,” said Dr. Scott MacDonald, the clinic’s lead physician. “They don’t have to hustle or do sex work anymore, and some are now able to go to school or work. It’s very rewarding.”

I just can't help but feel the wrong message is being sent to kids. 

How do teachers feel?

Liane Gladue, 48, was a seventh-grade teacher and a married mother before she started shooting heroin two decades ago. She said she could not quit and spent her waking hours shoplifting and committing other crimes. But since joining the clinical trials and Crosstown’s program, she said, she has reconnected with her grown children.

“When I wake up and think about what I’d have to do for heroin, I feel so lucky to be in this program,” she said. “Now I can do some healing.”


You guys realize you are committing slow suicide, right?

And with this I have run out of time for blogging today.


Wildfire in Alberta spreads to 210,000 acres in size

The region has the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The fire has dealt a blow to the region’s crude production, with companies curtailing production or stopping altogether.

Look on the bright side; that should help raise the price of oil.

Somerville 3-D startup buys Canadian firm

Also see:

"The weather forecast offered a glimmer of hope: a 40 percent chance of rain on Sunday. A mass airlift of evacuees resumed in the heart of Canada’s oil sands, where the fire has torched 1,600 homes and other buildings. The mass evacuation has forced as much as a quarter of Canada’s oil output offline, according to estimates, and is expected to affect a country already hurt by a dramatic fall in the price of oil."

I'm told they have ‘‘not seen rain in this area for the last two months,’’ and yet a few days ago they cited lightning as the cause. 


"The fire and mass evacuation has forced as much as a quarter of Canada’s oil output offline and was expected to affect a Canadian economy already hurt by a dramatic fall in the price of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. A growing wildfire could double in size and reach a major oil-sands tract, and in no way is [it] under control.’’

Give it a day (sigh).