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Alberta wildfires voted top Canadian news story of 2016: poll

The one news story that gripped Canadians more than any other this year was the Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfires, according to the results of a poll.

Dubbed “The Beast,” the wildfires blazed through an area larger than Prince Edward Island, destroyed thousands of homes and led to the largest evacuation in Alberta’s history.

The fire forced almost 90,000 people to flee the oil sands region in the first days of May, driving along the highway while the fore burned through forests on either side, and ashes rained down.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: from the ashes rise stories of the rebuild

When they were allowed to return beginning in June, many found their homes reduced to rubble.

Nearly four in 10 Canadians polled in a recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global News said the devastating wildfires that engulfed parts of Alberta was the story that most captivated them – although the numbers varied from one province to another.

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READ MORE: ‘The Beast’ is still burning east of Fort McMurray

Forty-nine per cent of respondents in Alberta and 45 per cent of those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba said the wildfires was the top story of 2016. Almost as many (43 per cent) in the Atlantic provinces — where many residents have family that moved to Alberta – also said the catastrophic fires was the biggest story.

In neighbouring British Columbia, however, only 31 per cent said the same, though the fires still ranked highest among the choices presented to those polled.

Watch below: Fort McMurray firefighter Mark Stephenson forced to watch as fire consumes his own home

Fort McMurray firefighter forced to watch as fire consumes his own home
Fort McMurray firefighter forced to watch as fire consumes his own home

Of course, other events and issues made the list, but none came close to the wildfires.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first year in office (17 per cent), the First Nation suicide crisis (13 per cent), the opioid crisis (nine per cent) and watching the U.S. election (nine per cent) rounded up the top five.

WATCH: Global National’s Reid Fiest was live on the air when the beast of a fire erupted behind him. Global photographers Loren Andreae and Dean Twardzik join him in remembering that moment on May 3, 2016.
Global crew remembers live TV report covering the Fort McMurray wildfire
Global crew remembers live TV report covering the Fort McMurray wildfire

The ongoing fentanyl crisis received the highest number of votes from respondents in B.C. (24 per cent), while Quebecers were the most likely to select the prime minister’s year (23 per cent).

Fentanyl overdoses were responsible for hundreds of deaths in 2016, and could take an even higher number of lives next year, experts have said. Saving people who have overdosed on opioids such as bootleg fentanyl has become a primary job of some first responders in Vancouver.

READ MORE: Fentanyl overdose paralyzes Calgary teen – ‘he has a life sentence now’

Firefighters at a station in the city’s Downtown Eastside responded to 1,255 calls last month relating to overdoses, said Dustin Bourdeaudhuy, vice-president of Vancouver Fire Fighters’ union local 18. If the cases continue at the same pace, he said they expect up to 1,600 calls in December.

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British Columbia has been ground zero for Canada’s painkiller crisis, where there were 622 unintentional overdose deaths from illicit drugs in the first 10 months of 2016 – an almost 60 per cent increase year over year.

Of those deaths, 332 have so far been linked to bootleg fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be up to 100 times more toxic than morphine.

Though B.C. has been the hardest hit by far this year, fentanyl and its even deadlier variety, carfentanyl, have been spreading eastward across the country.

This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey across 40 countries. Within Canada a sample of 3,004 Canadians was polled between Dec. 15 and 21. The results were weighted to reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the Canadian poll data is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.