JDR Vol.15 No.7 pp. 833-844
doi: 10.20965/jdr.2020.p0833


Social, Economic and Health Effects of the 2016 Alberta Wildfires: Pediatric Resilience

Julie L. Drolet*1,†, Caroline McDonald-Harker*2, Nasreen Lalani*3, Meagan McNichol*4, Matthew R. G. Brown*5, and Peter H. Silverstone*6

*1Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
3-250 Enterprise Square, 10230 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4P6, Canada

Corresponding author

*2Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Mount Royal University, Alberta, Canada

*3School of Nursing, Purdue University, Indiana, USA

*4Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

*5Department of Computing Science, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada

*6Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada

May 19, 2020
October 29, 2020
December 1, 2020
disaster recovery, wildfire, resilience, mental health

The 2016 Alberta wildfires resulted in devastating human, socio-economic, and environmental impacts. Very little research has examined pediatric resilience (5–18 years) in disaster-affected communities in Canada. This article discusses the effects of the wildfire on child and youth mental health, community perspectives on how to foster resilience post-disaster, and lessons learned about long-term disaster recovery by drawing on data collected from 75 community influencers following the 2016 Alberta wildfires. Community influencers engaged in the delivery of services and programs for children, youth, and families shared their perspectives and experiences in interviews (n = 30) and in focus group sessions (n = 35). Using a purposive and snowball sampling approach, participants were recruited from schools, community organizations, not-for-profit agencies, early childhood development centers, and government agencies. The results show that long-term disaster recovery efforts require sustained funding, particularly in meeting mental health and well-being. Implications and recommendations are provided.

Cite this article as:
J. Drolet, C. McDonald-Harker, N. Lalani, M. McNichol, M. Brown, and P. Silverstone, “Social, Economic and Health Effects of the 2016 Alberta Wildfires: Pediatric Resilience,” J. Disaster Res., Vol.15 No.7, pp. 833-844, 2020.
Data files:
  1. [1] Government of Alberta, “Wildfire update 1 (May 4, 2016),” [accessed May 17, 2020]
  2. [2] Government of Alberta, “Final update 39: 2016 wildfires (June 10, 2016),” [accessed May 17, 2020]
  3. [3] Province of Alberta, “Order in council,” 2016, [accessed May 17, 2020]
  4. [4] B. M. McDermott, E. M. Lee, M. Judd, and P. Gibbon, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and General Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents following a Wildfire Disaster,” The Canadian J. of Psychiatry, Vol.50, Issue 3, pp. 137-143, 2005.
  5. [5] D. Papadatou, I. Giannopoulou, P. Bitsakou, T. Bellali, M. A. Talias, and K. Tselepi, “Adolescents’ reactions after a wildfire disaster in Greece,” J. of Traumatic Stress, Vol.25, Issue 1, pp. 57-63, 2012.
  6. [6] L. Dominelli and V. Ioakimidis, “Social work on the frontline in addressing disasters, social problems and marginalization,” Int. Social Work, Vol.58, Issue 1, pp. 3-6, 2015.
  7. [7] M. Gray, J. Coates, and T. Hetherington, “Environmental Social Work,” Routledge, 2013.
  8. [8] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), “World Disasters Report 2007: Focus on discrimination,” IFRC, 2007.
  9. [9] United Nations, “Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals,” 2015, [accessed May 17, 2020]
  10. [10] M. J. Zakour, “Vulnerability and Risk Assessment: Building Community Resilience,” D. F. Gillespie and K. Danso (Eds.), “Disaster Concepts and Issues: A Guide for Social Work Education and Practice,” pp. 15-33, Council on Social Work Education, Inc., 2010.
  11. [11] J. Wood, “Province boosts cost of Albertan floods to $6 billion,” Calgary Herald, September 24, 2013, [accessed May 17, 2020]
  12. [12] J. R. Freedy, M. E. Saladin, D. G. Kilpatrick, H. S. Resnick, and B. E. Saunders, “Understanding acute psychological distress following natural disaster,” J. of Traumatic Stress, Vol.7, Issue 2, pp. 257-273, 1994.
  13. [13] J. R. Freedy, H. S. Resnick, and D. G. Kilpatrick, “Conceptual framework for evaluating disaster impact: Implications for clinical intervention,” L. S. Austin (Ed.), “Responding to disaster: A guide for mental health professionals,” pp. 3-23, American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1992.
  14. [14] G. N. Marshall, T. L. Schell, M. N. Elliott, N. R. Rayburn, and L. H. Jaycox, “Psychiatric Disorders Among Adults Seeking Emergency Disaster Assistance After a Wildland-Urban Interface Fire,” Psychiatric Services, Vol.58, No.4, pp. 509-514, 2007.
  15. [15] P. G. van der Velden and R. J. Kleber, “Substance Use and Misuse After Disasters: Prevalences and Correlates,” Y. Neria, S. Galea, and F. H. Norris (Eds.), “Mental Health and Disasters,” pp. 94-130, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  16. [16] T. B. Paveglio, C. Kooistra, T. Hall, and M. Pickering, “Understanding the Effect of Large Wildfires on Residents’ Well-Being: What Factors Influence Wildfire Impact?,” Forest Science, Vol.62, No.1, pp. 59-69, 2016.
  17. [17] A. K. Langley, “Coping Efforts and Efficacy, Acculturation, and Post-Traumatic Symptomatology in Adolescents following Wildfire: A Latent Variable Path Analysis,” Ph.D. Thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2000.
  18. [18] A. C. McFarlane, J. R. Clayer, and C. L. Bookless, “Psychiatric morbidity following a natural disaster: An Australian bushfire,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Vol.32, Issue 5, pp. 261-268, 1997.
  19. [19] K. Mortensen, R. K. Wilson, and V. Ho, “Physical and Mental Health Status of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees in Houston in 2005 and 2006,” J. of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Vol.20, No.2, pp. 524-538, 2009.
  20. [20] E. Toman, M. Stidham, S. McCaffrey, and B. Shindler, “Social Science at the Wildland-Urban Interface: A Compendium of Research Results to Create Fire-Adapted Communities,” United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northern Research Station General Technical Report NRS-111, doi: 10.2737/NRS-GTR-111, 2013.
  21. [21] D. F. Gillespie and K. Danso (Eds.), “Disaster Concepts and Issues: A Guide for Social Work Education and Practice,” Council on Social Work Education, Inc., 2010.
  22. [22] F. H. Norris, M. J. Friedman, P. J. Watson, C. M. Byrne, E. Diaz, and K. Kaniasty, “60,000 Disaster Victims Speak: Part I. An Empirical Review of the Empirical Literature, 1981–2001,” Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, Vol.65, No.3, pp. 207-239, 2002.
  23. [23] R. A. Bryant et al., “Psychological outcomes following the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires,” Australian & New Zealand J. of Psychiatry, Vol.48, Issue 7, pp. 634-643, 2014.
  24. [24] Y.-J. Chou, N. Huang, C.-H. Lee, S.-L. Tsai, J.-H. Tsay, L.-S. Chen, and P. Chou, “Suicides after the 1999 Taiwan earthquake,” Int. J. of Epidemiology, Vol.32, Issue 6, pp. 1007-1014, 2003.
  25. [25] J. W. Felton, D. A. Cole, and N. C. Martin, “Effects of rumination on child and adolescent depressive reactions to a natural disaster: The 2010 Nashville flood,” J. of Abnormal Psychology, Vol.122, No.1, pp. 64-73, 2013.
  26. [26] N. Kar and B. K. Bastia, “Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and generalised anxiety disorder in adolescents after a natural disaster: A study of comorbidity,” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, Vol.2, Article No.17, doi: 10.1186/1745-0179-2-17, 2006.
  27. [27] L. Drumm and J. Stretch, “Identifying and Helping Long Term Child and Adolescent Disaster Victims: Model and Method,” J. of Social Service Research, Vol.30, Issue 2, pp. 93-108, 2004.
  28. [28] V. Papanikolaou, D. Adamis, R. C. Mellon, and G. Prodromitis, “Psychological Distress Following Wildfires Disaster in a Rural Part of Greece: A Case-Control Population-Based Study,” Int. J. of Emergency Mental Health, Vol.13, No.1, pp. 11-26, 2011.
  29. [29] V. Papanikolaou, G. R. Leon, J. Kyriopoulos, J. Levett, and E. Pallis, “Surveying the Ashes: Experience from the 2007 Peloponnese Wildfires Six Months after the Disaster,” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, Vol.26, Issue 2, pp. 79-89, 2011.
  30. [30] S. A. Reijneveld, M. R. Crone, F. C. Verhulst, and S. P. Verloove-Vanhorick, “The effect of a severe disaster on the mental health of adolescents: a controlled study,” The Lancet, Vol.362, Issue 9385, pp. 691-696, 2003.
  31. [31] H. E. Vehid, B. Alyanak, and A. Eksi, “Suicide Ideation after the 1999 Earthquake in Marmara, Turkey,” The Tohoku J. of Experimental Medicine, Vol.208, No.1, pp. 19-24, 2006.
  32. [32] S. Zaffina, V. Camisa, E. Monducci, M. R. Vinci, S. Vicari, and A. Bergamaschi, “PTSD prevalence and associated risk factors after a fire disaster that broke out in a paediatric hospital: a cross-sectional study,” La Medicina del Lavoro, Vol.105, No.3, pp. 163-173, 2014.
  33. [33] N. C. Martin, J. W. Felton, and D. A. Cole, “Predictors of Youths’ Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Following a Natural Disaster: The 2010 Nashville, Tennessee, Flood,” J. of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, Vol.45, Issue 3, 2016.
  34. [34] M. L. Kelley, S. Self-Brown, B. Le, J. V. Bosson, B. C. Hernandez, and A. T. Gordon, “Predicting posttraumatic stress symptoms in children following Hurricane Katrina: A prospective analysis of the effect of parental distress and parenting practices,” J. of Traumatic Stress, Vol.23, Issue 5, pp. 582-590, doi: 10.1002/jts.20573, 2010.
  35. [35] R. P. Kilmer and V. Gil-Rivas, “Responding to the needs of children and families after a disaster: Linkages between unmet needs and caregiver functioning,” American J. of Orthopsychiatry, Vol.80, Issue 1, pp. 135-142, 2010.
  36. [36] A. C. McFarlane, “Posttraumatic Phenomena in a Longitudinal Study of Children Following a Natural Disaster,” J. of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol.26, Issue 5, pp. 764-769, 1987.
  37. [37] L. Peek, “Children and Disasters: Understanding Vulnerability, Developing Capacities, and Promoting Resilience – An Introduction,” Children, Youth and Environments, Vol.18, No.1, pp. 1-29, 2008.
  38. [38] W. A. Anderson, “Bringing Children into Focus on the Social Science Disaster Research Agenda,” Int. J. of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Vol.23, No.3, pp. 159-175, 2005.
  39. [39] Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, “Municipal census report 2018,” 2018,$!26+Development+Documents/Census+Report+2018.pdf [accessed February 24, 2020]
  40. [40] S. Dorow and S. O’Shaughnessy, “Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo, and the Oil/Tar Sands: Revisiting the Sociology of “Community”: Introduction to the Special Issue,” Canadian J. of Sociology, Vol.38, No.2, pp. 121-140, 2013.
  41. [41] S. Cake, E. Jackson, E. Pineault, and I. Hussey, “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands,” Parkland Institute, November 8, 2018, [accessed February 16, 2020]
  42. [42] K. Cryderman, “Fort McMurray wildfires to cost insurers $3.6-billion,” The Globe and Mail, July 7, 2016, [accessed February 18, 2020]
  43. [43] M. R. G. Brown et al., “Significant PTSD and Other Mental Health Effects Present 18 Months After the Fort McMurray Wildfire: Findings from 3,070 Grade 7–12 Students,” Frontiers in Psychiatry, Vol.10, Article No.623, doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00623, 2019.
  44. [44] The Canadian Press, “Devastating Fort McMurray wildfire declared out 15 months later,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), September 1, 2017, [accessed February 23, 2020]
  45. [45] C. McDonald-Harker, “Characteristics of resilience in children and youth after the 2016 Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfire,” Unpublished paper.
  46. [46] N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), “The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research,” 4th Edition, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011.
  47. [47] E. G. Guba and Y. S. Lincoln, “Paradigmatic Controversies, Contradictions, and Emerging Confluences,” N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), “The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research,” 3rd Edition, pp. 191-216, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005.
  48. [48] K. Charmaz, “Grounded Theory in the 21st Century: Applications for Advancing Social Justice Studies,” N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), “The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research,” 3rd Edition, pp. 507-536, SAGE Publications Inc., 2005.
  49. [49] K. Charmaz, “Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis,” 1st Edition, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2006.
  50. [50] J. Mills, A. Bonner, and K. Francis, “Adopting a constructivist approach to grounded theory: Implications for research design,” Int. J. of Nursing Practice, Vol.12, Issue 1, pp. 5-13, 2006.
  51. [51] B. G. Glaser, “Conceptualization: On Theory and Theorizing Using Grounded Theory,” Int. J. of Qualitative Methods, Vol.1, Issue 2, pp. 23-38, 2002.
  52. [52] C. Stanke, V. Murray, R. Amlôt, J. Nurse, and R. Williams, “The Effects of Flooding on Mental Health: Outcomes and Recommendations from a Review of the Literature,” PLOS Currents Disasters, doi: 10.1371/4f9f1fa9c3cae, 2012.
  53. [53] A. C. McFarlane and R. Williams, “Mental Health Services Required after Disasters: Learning from the Lasting Effects of Disasters,” Depression Research and Treatment, Vol.2012, doi: 10.1155/2012/970194, 2012.
  54. [54] J. L. Drolet (Ed.), “Rebuilding Lives Post-Disaster,” Oxford University Press, 2019.

*This site is desgined based on HTML5 and CSS3 for modern browsers, e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, Opera.

Last updated on Apr. 22, 2024