Fort McMurray Damaged Structures — Estimates Based on Satellite Images

This is a living document. It was first published on May 6th during a time when there was very little information available from other sources. The most recent update was at 2:30am on May 20th.

Steve Jones, mcmurraymap@gmail.com

May 20th update:

On May 18th, the Regional Municipality has now published the best available images and analysis. These were collected by an airplane (much higher resolution than satellite,) and also show each building from North, East, South, West and top-down perspectives. You can also create a damage report that will provide you with the Rapid Damage Assessment status. At this time, there is no longer any point in referring to my original maps below.

For those that are interested, there is some Digital Globe imagery here:

You can also find some maps here from Pierre Lardeux that put the burned areas of the town in the larger context of the overall fire.

May 13th update:

Global News has acquired some new imagery. These are high quality images — especially considering that they are from a satellite and not from an airplane. I haven’t had a chance to do a full side by side review to look for errors/updates in the maps. If you see any deviations, please let me know.

You can view these new images and download them here:

May 10th comments:

A few additional buildings were identified on Ward Crescent and one on Comeau Crescent. I have not updated the maps to show that.

May 9th afternoon comments:

  • The current estimate is now 2400 buildings. I would guess that number includes secondary buildings (garages.) 1600 seems like a reasonable estimate for primary buildings. If anyone can get clarity on that point it would be appreciated. At the end of the day, the number that will matter the most is displaced households and displaced businesses. A number of the buildings that were lost were multi-unit buildings.

May 9th update:

No new satellite images were made available but I have found a few likely errors in the previous analysis of the May 6th images and I apologize for that. When time allows, I may adjust the main post but for now the update is directly below. If this is your first time to this page, please read the preamble below this update. As always, please do not expect this analysis to be completely accurate and you can always view the source images at:

I think there are diminishing returns in performing further analysis at this point. We have received word that the RCMP is nearing completion of a damage inventory.

Media will also be allowed into the town on Monday and the Premier will be surveying damage herself. I expect that all property owners will be receiving definitive information shortly which will be more complete and accurate than estimates based on satellite images.

I sincerely hope that this analysis provided value in the past few days. The intention was to leverage publicly available information to provide a clearer (but not perfect) view of the situation in the municipality in the long days before official information could be made available.

There were a few important things that the satellite images have told us before the official damage assessments can be provided:

  • Some neighbourhoods clearly suffered a high amount of damage and it was hopefully useful to have that information sooner than later.
  • Some neighbourhoods were clearly saved. Such a large amount of the municipality was saved that it was important for people to know that any speculation that the town had been “wiped off the map” was completely misplaced.

May 9th changes:

  • There is one suspected damaged building on Diamondstone Ridge and one possibly damaged building on Sylvanus Crescent. (no map update included here.)
  • Draper: Some additional structures that were likely damaged have been added to the map. See map here (note that this is a different scale than most of the other maps.)
  • Prospect Drive: I’ve added two houses as possibly damaged on the south end.
  • Saline Creek : Both sides highway — some buildings added (different scale than most other maps.)
  • Airport: A handful of structures were added to the map (different scale than most other maps.)
  • Here is some remarkable footage from one of the hangars:
  • Of interest: These two images were taken on May 5th and May 6th. They show the lengths to which crews worked to create firebreaks around neighbourhoods at an extremely rapid pace. Because the town was evacuated, there wasn’t any media coverage of the work being done during the fire. Based on a few clues in the satellite images, it is clear that a heroic amount of work was performed to save a majority of the municipality.

Preamble

A few important notes before you look at the diagrams:

  1. This is not official, has not been prepared by a professional and will not be entirely accurate. This is a volunteer effort based on satellite images. Not-knowing what has happened in the community while it remains under a mandatory evacuation order is emotionally exhausting. The intent of this page is to help provide partial clarity and an overall estimate of the portions of the town that suffered the most damage. Final answers will need to come from official sources.
  2. The fire and evacuation is a stressful experience but it has been inspiring to see the community come together. If you have lost your house, I assure you that the entire country is standing behind you and has your back. Individuals and the community will come out of this event stronger than before. If you wish to speak with someone, mental health support is available by calling Alberta’s 24-hour Mental Health Help Line at 1–877–303–2642.
  3. The primary source for this analysis is satellite imagery provided to the public by Google in a Crisis Map that was collected on May 5th and again on May 6th. Google often provides recent high resolution imagery during natural disasters. A non-professional analysis of the images was then plotted onto the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo property map to more clearly show which structures have likely been impacted. This approach has limitations and will have to be verified by an on-the-ground assessment — expect errors in both directions. (Source images can be found here: http://www.google.org/crisismap/2016-fort-mcmurray-fire and the municipal map can be found here: http://view.rmwb.ca/) All satellite images from Google TerraBella unless otherwise indicated (Terra Bella, License: CC-BY-4.0)
  4. There are some notes with the maps about local limitations of the data such as cloud cover or places where online reports do not match the images.
  5. Although there is a large amount of property loss, a majority of the town and all or almost all of the critical infrastructure is still intact. Fort McMurray has not been destroyed and will recover. One of the reasons for this initiative was to more visually communicate this important message.
  6. Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross:

Reading the diagrams:

  • This method can not identify damage to walls, smoke damage or water damage.
  • Red circled areas show structures that have likely been seriously damaged.
  • Yellow circled areas areas where the damage is less certain.
  • Don’t mistake the fire hydrant symbols that denote the locations of fire halls for red shaded areas — this is more of a problem on the overview maps.
  • No attempt has been made to show the area of forest/brush that has burned. That is a much larger area stretching almost as far as Saskatchewan. Of interest, most of the Birchwood Trails and MacDonald Island Park escaped damage.

Introduction and example: Prospect Drive

#4 on the overview map

The Prospect Drive images are instructive as an example because we have some on-the-ground video to corroborate the satellite images.

Here is the original image on May 1st (before the fire):

Here is the image of Prospect Drive on May 6th. Interpreting the image is a matter of assessing whether the roofs are intact and then comparing the image to the property map to identify specific parcels that have been damaged. Unfortunately, there was a large loss of property in this neighbourhood.

This video shows the neighbourhood in the Eastern portion of Prospect Drive:

Below is the structural damage map. *Note that I have received a report of lost houses on Diamondstone Ridge but the images do not agree with that report.


Overview Maps

The damaged structures are spread across the entire region. It’s obvious that heroic efforts from firefighters saved a large number of structures and entire neighbourhoods.

The official estimate is 1600 structures lost.

Based on these maps, that seems very close to the correct number (assuming that secondary buildings/garages are not counted.) The total number of displaced households will be higher since some buildings were apartment buildings, duplexes, townhouses, etc.

Overall Area:

Note that Saprae Creek and Anzac are not included but do have reported damages.

Sector overview maps (not including Airport/Draper/South):

2) Wood Buffalo

3) Timberlea

Walnut Crescent

There is a particular house on Walnut Crescent that has discolouration on the roof. I suspect that this was from a drop of fire retardant but it’s very difficult to make any assumptions from satellite imagery.

May 1st:

May 6th:

Parsons Creek

The recently named El Sie Yanik Catholic School is still under construction. It was reported as lost through Twitter on May 4th from an official source. It was covered in cloud in the May 5th image but the May 6th image shows likely damage to the building. I am colouring it yellow instead of red for the moment as it may be possible to repair instead based on the satellite images. The May 6th image also shows the three buildings on Blackburn Dr referenced in the May 4th announcement. Note that some of these buildings were so new that they hadn’t yet made it to the municipality map and that reduces the accuracy of the process.

May 1st (school is the large building in the center of the image):

May 6th:

5) Abasand

This video is a flyover starting in Abasand and then crossing down to Beacon Hill.

Abasand — Two additional multi-family buildings lost on May 5th/6th

There is a set of multi-family buildings in central Abasand off the Northwest corner of Abasand Drive and Athabasca Avenue. The May 5th imagery showed that nine had likely been lost. It now appears that between May 5th and May 6th, an additional two have been lost or severely damaged. The northern building does look less damaged than the rest.

May 5th:

May 6th:


6) Grayling


7) Beacon Hill


8) South of Beacon Hill — Both sides of highway

Potential Arson on May 7th

It appears that a handful of trailers may have escaped in the Centennial RV Park. There is no good way to show that so it is still all red in the diagram.

Note that there are unconfirmed reports of an arson in Prairie Creek on May 7th that impacted a small number of homes. That is unrelated to the wildfire and I will not be including it in any maps.


9) Waterways


10) Airport


11) Draper

Saprae Creek Estates and Aznac

There is a lack of complete imagery for Saprae Creek Estates but damage is confirmed with more damage on the south than the north. You can view the available images at Google.

There is no imagery for Aznac but 12 buildings have been confirmed to be damaged.