5 years after ‘The Beast’ ignited, investigation into Fort McMurray wildfire ‘remains open and active’

Half a decade after a massive wildfire event wreaked havoc on Fort McMurray, Alta., and surrounding communities, the RCMP says its investigation into a blaze that’s been dubbed “The Beast” remains open and active.

“It remains undetermined whether the human activity that caused the fire was criminal in nature,” the RCMP told Global News. “At this point in our investigation, criminal charges are not imminent.

“An investigation of this size and scope is never concluded, and all new information which may arise will receive continued investigation.”

A dedicated phone line was set up in 2016 to take tips for the investigation. The RCMP said it was taken down after a lack of activity.

“The Beast,” officially called the Horse River wildfire, began burning in northern Alberta on May 1, 2016 and wasn’t fully extinguished until more than a year later.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Residents recall their escape from ‘The Beast’ 

The fire forced 88,000 people to flee the Fort McMurray area, destroyed more than 2,400 buildings and caused an estimated $3.8 billion in insured damage.

A month after the fire broke out, an RCMP inspector said he believed it was “most likely the result of human activity,” adding that would not necessarily mean it was arson.

READ MORE: RCMP say Fort McMurray wildfire likely ‘result of human activity,’ investigate if blaze was criminal

At that time, the RCMP said a joint probe undertaken with wildfire investigators had ruled out lightning as a probable cause.

BELOW: (From June 2016) It’s been dubbed ‘the Beast” and Mounties are now closing in on what may have sparked that massive wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray. But as Shallima Maharaj explains, they need some help from the public.

Click to play video: 'Mounties ask public for help in Fort McMurray wildfire investigation'
Mounties ask public for help in Fort McMurray wildfire investigation

Police have said the blaze initially began burning about 15 kilometres southwest of Fort McMurray and was first spotted by air on May 1, 2016 by a forestry crew.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray residents preach resilience 5 years after wildfire swept through community

While it remains unknown if human activity played a role in the fire, in late 2016 Alberta brought in stiffer penalties for people who abandon campfires or disregard fire bans.

Alberta saw 1,338 wildfires the year “The Beast” began to burn. At the time, the provincial government estimated 60 per cent of the fires were caused by humans while lightning was considered the other major cause.

The amended legislation increased fines from $5,000 to $100,000 for individual people, while fines for corporations were raised to a maximum of $1 million.

READ MORE: Alberta hopes increased fines will help bolster wildfire prevention 

Before it was finally declared out, “The Beast” managed to spread into Saskatchewan and burned nearly 6,000 square kilometres in total.

BELOW: Some Global News videos about the Fort McMurray wildfire that was dubbed “The Beast.”


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