Unless you’ve been off the grid for the past few days then you’ve definitely heard about the wildfire in Fort McMurray. Not only is the news being covered across Canada, but also across the United States. Since Tuesday, close to 90,000 people have been evacuated. That’s a lot of people.
However, it’s not the largest peacetime evacuation in Canadian history: that goes to the Mississauga train derailment of 1979. Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was the largest peacetime evacuation in North American history. On November 10, 1979, a freight train carrying explosive and poisonous chemicals from Windsor derailed while going through Mississauga. Several tank cars filled with propane burst into flames and sent a fireball 1,500m into the sky and could be seen 100km away. However, a ruptured chlorine tank became cause for concern and 200,000 people were evacuated from the area.
Like many disasters, the Mississauga train derailment eventually had a song written about it. In 2014, Death From Above 1979 released that song, called “Trainwreck 1979”:
“It ran off the track, 11-79
While the immigrants slept, there wasn’t much time
The mayor came calling and got ’em outta bed
They packed up their families and headed upwind
A poison cloud, a flaming sky, 200,000 people and no one died
And all before the pocket dial, yeah!”
The speed and efficiency to which the evacuation happened thanks to Mayor Hazel McCallion, Peel Regional Police, and other governmental authorities led to many other cities using Mississauga as a guideline for their own emergency plans.
As the song lyrics mention, nobody died in the 1979 train derailment, not even any of the train workers. The train’s brakeman, Larry Krupa, was even recommended for the Order of Canada for his bravery during the situation and preventing the undamaged cars from becoming damaged.
In Alberta, the province has declared a state of emergency as Fort McMurray and several other surrounding communities have been evacuated. However, there have thankfully been no reports of injuries or deaths. Perhaps when the crisis is over bands will write songs about it and the brave firemen who have been working hard to stop the fire.