Satellite photo of Northern Alberta's wildfires, 28 May 2019, 17:40 MDT
E LaMont Gregory MSc Oxon
On the 3rd of May, 2019 a CBC report included the following rather ominous statement: 'Abnormally dry conditions across the Pacific Northwest could spell long wildfire season ... the spectre of another potentially destructive wildfire season is on the horizon.'
When that report was first published, there were already the beginnings of three major wildfires racing across the grasslands, prairies and forests of Northern Alberta.
In light of recurring large-scale wildfires over the last several years, such headlines and events beg the question as to exactly what those who control the machinery of provincial and federal government, those responsible for both public safety and environmental protection, have been doing to prepare for, what now portends to be, an inevitable annual major wildfire season.
There have been major advances in firefighting techniques and tactics that are working there way steadily through the maze of competing technologies and interests that offer a real chance to control and extinguish large-scale wildfires, as well as, an improvement in extinguishing fires in structures. One of the most potentially beneficial technologies exists in three separate parts, one part being developed in the United States, another part in China, and a third in Canada. Although, the third part now exists as a major section of another development, and little effort has been forthcoming to convert its use to major firefighting efforts, nonetheless, when combined these separate parts will form a formidable advance in firefighting wherewithal.
Let me put it this way. A professor at Oxford encouraged the research fellows within his department, when confronted with the fact that an apparatus under investigation was not capable of performing the task which its developers hoped it would perform, to response to the developers to the effect that: if, you want to go to the moon, and all you have is a bicycle, you will not get there.
In this case the wildfire is the moon, and the means being deployed to fight them, the bicycle.
The thoughtful reader will ask, and rightfully so. How can that statement, ... the wildfire is the moon, and the means being deployed to fight them represents the bicycle in this analogy, be made with such certainty.
The answer relies on one of the fundamental laws of nature and was formulated by none other than Albert Einstein. Einstein in his seminal equation E = mc2, the mass–energy equivalence equation, states that anything having mass has an equivalent amount of energy, and therefore, anything having energy has an equivalent amount of mass.
Based upon these fundamental quantities, it is possible to compare the amount of energy in a fire with the amount of energy in any fire extinguishing medium, directly.
In doing so, one arrives at the understanding that - if, the amount of energy in a fire is greater than the amount of energy in a fire extinguishing medium, the fire will not be extinguished. And conversely, if, the amount of energy in the fire extinguishing medium is greater than the energy in the fire, the fire can be extinguished.
This is the fundamental principle of all firefighting efforts.
Advances in thermal imaging make it possible to calculate, to a very high level of accuracy, the amount of energy in a wildfire either from terrestrial or satellite-based thermal imaging systems. We know the sum total of all the water being used by the hundreds of firefighters and the scores of fire departments deploying land-based as well as aerial firefighting tactics.
By converting the water to its energy equivalent, it is possible to compare the amount of energy in the wildfires with the amount of energy in the water being used to fight the wildfires.
Before stating the result of that comparative analysis it is necessary to define the term - order of magnitude.
If the amount of energy in the wildfires is one order of magnitude greater than the amount of energy equivalent in the water used to extinguish a wildfire, the amount of energy in the wildfire is about ten times greater than the energy equivalent in the water.
And, if the energy in the wildfires were two orders of magnitude greater than the water, the one would differ from the other by a factor of 100 times the amount of energy in one compared to the other.
To extinguish a wildfire, or any other fire, the energy in the wildfire would have to be, at a minimum, at the same order of magnitude as the energy equivalent in the water. Ideally, to extinguish a wildfire the energy of the water would exceed the energy equivalent of the wildfire.
In the current circumstances, the energy in the wildfires in Northern Alberta, exceeds the energy of the sum total of all the water being used to extinguish the wildfires by more than one order of magnitude, even if we generously suggest that 100% of the water being deployed is being deployed with 100% efficiency, which it is not.
Before detailing the reasons this author arrived at the conclusion that conduct purporting misfeasance by several public officials did in fact occur, let us consider the wildfire season of 2018. And, the horrific fire at a Greek coastal tourist resort, and the structure fires in a London tower block, a mall in Siberia and, of course, the fires which destroyed a significant portion of Fort McMurray.
Few will or can forget the weeks of sunlight-blocking smoke which lingered over Alberta for weeks, as wildfires raced across Alberta, British Colombia, and the State of California, among many other places.
One writer described the air-quality in these terms '... smoke from the fires enveloped ... Edmonton, in a thick, acrid, haze that limited visibility and made it difficult to breathe. If we look at what the peer-reviewed evidenced- based medical literature says about that ... 'thick, acrid, haze' we discover that that smoke carried with it tiny respirable particulate matter with makes it way deep into lung tissue, where it causes damage. Damage to human tissue results in morbidity (disease) and mortality, that is, premature death).
The medical literature documents that when the level of particulate matter in the air rises above a level of 100 parts per cubic meter of air, for each further increase of 10 parts there is a corresponding 1% increase in morbidity and mortality. And naturally, there are those with existing medical conditions, such as, asthma, emphysema, and various heart diseases which already find it difficult to breathe.
When the current premier of Alberta invoked, Section 7 of the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act, which deals with deviations from the provincial budget, his early request was for something in the neighborhood of 250 million dollars, to address what the government characterized as 'extraordinary losses, damages and costs, including prevention, presuppression, suppression, reclamation, and reforestation costs, resulting from wildfires', in Northern Alberta.
Given the widespread human damage from the inhalation of respirable particulate matter (air-borne particles that penetrate to the gas exchange region of the lungs), and the existence of some 10,000 internally displaced persons due to the wildfires, in realistic terms, the cost of the wildfires, thus far, already exceeds 1 billion dollars. Included in this figure is lost wages, productivity and earnings as well as the operational costs associated with additional schools days, among other costs.
At his earliest convenience the premier ought to include the health costs in his calculations. And, if he truly intends to be prepared for the next set of wildfires a comprehensive plan ought to be developed, which would include the most important element in combating wildfires, and that is, aggressively attacking them when they first appear. We will have more to say on that in a subsequent article.
The case for misfeasance contra Rachel Notley
Misfeasance describes conduct by a public official that results from their failure to discharge a public obligation, which exists and is governed by the standards of common law, custom or statute. Thus, misfeasance may result when conduct by a public official contravenes; a common law - judges' decisions, custom - an established pattern of behavior within a political system, or a statute - a formal written enactment of a legislative authority.
It is prudent to treat each of the three sources, common law, custom and statutes, which set standards and which govern a public officials conduct, as important equally.
Misfeasance is further distinguished, in fact and in law, from malfeasance, an intentional unlawful wrongdoing and, nonfeasance, a failure to act where there was a duty to act.
In essence, misfeasance is a term in tort law, which is used to describe the degree to which a public official fails to carry out their obligations in accordance with the established standards for their conduct in office. Before delving into the intricacies of misfeasance tort law, the following are the facts.
Between August and October of 2018, this author made contact with three governmental entities concerning the upcoming 2019 wildfire season and how we ought to plan to combat the wildfires; then Premier Rachel Notley (now leader of the opposition), the mayor and city manager of Saint Albert (the city manager coincidentally once lived in Fort McMurray), and the interim chief of Fire Station No. 3, St Albert.
Only the interim chief of Fire Station No. 3, St Albert, discharged his obligations governing his conduct as a public official. He referred me to the exact federal agency who statutory authority it is to to maintain standards for the delivery of fire services, its management, personnel, and to conduct research and development to improve all aspects of fire services in Canada.
Although, that referral, as it turns out was back to the same agency that had suggested that I might want to pass the information on to a 'friendly' local fire service for their comment. The interaction with the interim chief was neither direct, friendly or respectful for that matter, but as far as the performance of the minimum obligation of his responsibilities as a public service provider is concerned, he carried out those duties precisely and in an exacting manner, by his referral to the federal agency.
In the specific circumstances of Premier Rachel Notley, the mayor and city manager of St Albert, failed utterly, and with conscious awareness, to carry out their minimum obligation to respond with, at least, a referral to whomever within provincial government or municipal government, respectively, responsibility it was to engage the matter brought before them.
Some of the reviewers of this article, each had had numerous instances where they had left an interaction with a public official feeling that they had not been given the information they needed to take the matter of concern to them further.
And here we introduce the concept that the higher the rank of the official, the greater the responsibility they have to respond, inform or to refer any public inquiry to the responsible entity within government.
The thoughtful reader of this article, will have referenced - tort law - to achieve at least a basic understanding of the key elements involved.
As that same thoughtful reader then proceeds to misfeasance specifically, one finds that misfeasance differs from most tort law, because, it is not necessary that the conduct by a public official be proved to be either a deliberate or a vindictive act. In fact, John Murphy in his treatise on misfeasance, published by the Oxford University Press, reasoned that misfeasance was actually a tort law misfit, but that characterization does not in any way diminish the severity or seriousness of an act of misfeasance. In addition, the fact that cases of misfeasance are infrequent in the courts, does not diminish the gravity of an act of misfeasance.
Infrequency, does not mean that there are no major cases of misfeasance or that there is a lacking of legal scholarship on the subject, reality is very much to the contrary. or that there is not a large body