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Forecast podcast: Thousands evacuate as unprecedented wildfires burn in Alberta

Screenshot of dozens of fires across Alberta.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Joe Veyera discuss the unprecedented wildfires in Alberta, Canada, that have forced thousands to evacuate, plus more on Ukrainian President Zelenskyy visiting Berlin, leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan meeting, a federal appeals court hearing on the abortion pill and a summit for Arab leaders.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Alex Moore, Jeff Landset, Ahmed Namatalla and Joe Veyera.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is May 11.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Ukrainian President Zelenskyy visiting Berlin, leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan meeting, a federal appeals court hearing on the abortion pill, a summit for Arab leaders and a look at the wildfires wreaking havoc in Alberta, Canada. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Zelenskyy visit to Berlin

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to visit Berlin and Aachen on Saturday. It will be his first visit to Germany since the war began.

Police confirmed the initial reports of the visit, adding that there would be a large security operation ahead of Zelenskyy’s arrival. He’s expected to be received in Berlin by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

They’ll reportedly discuss the ongoing war and possible German military additions to the war effort. 

Of course, hanging over the visit is a German probe into the leak of Zelenskyy’s visit. Ukrainian officials have already expressed frustration over the leaked details.

Now, the relationship between the countries has been somewhat strained since the war began, mostly due to the back-and-forth on possible German military support, more recently in the form of tanks. 

That fine balancing of military support and officially staying out of the war is a difficult one, and Germany has been attempting to keep those two clear of each other. 

Finally, while the probe into the leak continues, a very tight and expansive security operation is expected in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz where Zelenskyy will be staying.

Armenia, Azerbaijan leaders meet

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: The heads of state of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Brussels on Sunday.

The talks will be overseen by European Union Council President Charles Michel.

They come following recent U.S.-brokered discussions held by the two countries’ foreign ministers. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said both sides made “tangible progress” in those negotiations.

Both leaders also agreed in the EU statement to meet in Brussels on a trilateral basis as frequently as necessary to resolve disputes.

Now, talks seeking to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have thus far made little substantive progress. 

Issues on the ground remain, most notably Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor that connects Armenia with Yerevan’s Artsakh breakaway state in the disputed region. 

The blockade has intensified in recent weeks with Baku erecting its first military blockades along the route. 

What’s more, violence continues to periodically erupt along the volatile line of contact following the conclusion of the 2020 war, most recently in mid-April when seven soldiers on both sides were killed in a shootout.

Court of appeals hears abortion pill arguments

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in New Orleans on the legality of the abortion drug mifepristone.

It was just last month a federal district judge in Amarillo, Texas, suspended FDA approval of that abortion medication

Shortly after, a federal judge in Washington blocked the FDA from making any changes to the drug’s access in 17 Democratic-led states, throwing into question the legality of the country’s most common method of abortion

The U.S. Supreme Court also stepped in, saying the pill should remain available as lawsuits played out in a lower court.

Now, the panel hearing next week’s arguments is comprised of three judges who’ve been described as “deeply conservative” and “hostile to abortion rights.” 

Whichever side loses will be able to ask for a rehearing from the full 5th Circuit then appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Even if the 5th Circuit upholds the lower court’s ruling, seven Supreme Court justices have shown a willingness to allow mifepristone to stay on the market. 

Still, this is the same Supreme Court that reversed Roe v. Wade, which has led to several states banning abortion.

Arab League summit

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: The leaders of 450 million people in the Arab world are set to convene in Saudi Arabia on Friday. The Arab League summit comes amid a shift in the region’s political alignments not seen in decades. 

Most notably, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is expected to attend the meeting. That will be the first time in 12 years, after the body agreed to lift the country’s suspension imposed at the start of its civil war.

Syria’s readmission to the group ends political and economic isolation that exacerbated the impact of the war on its population; a war in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed and half of the rest displaced by fighting between the Iran-aligned Al-Assad and Islamist militant groups funded by Gulf royal families. 

And now, Saudi Arabia and Iran are reconciling, de-escalating their proxy wars across the region.

Of course, while the Arab League has long failed to produce results in terms of solving the region’s multiple conflicts, this year’s meeting has the potential to produce tangible outcomes. 

Syria’s readmission is reportedly contingent on its agreement to meet conditions of boosting efforts to end its war and curb drug trafficking. That, in exchange for investment to rebuild its infrastructure and further reintegration into the global community.

Alberta wildfires

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is about the wildfires wreaking havoc in Alberta, Canada. For more on that I’ve got our lead for The Americas desk, Joe Veyera.

JIMMY: Hello, Joe!

JOE: Thanks for having me back!

JIMMY: Well, Joe, I was hoping the next time we had you on the podcast it would be with something at least sort of resembling good news, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. What can you tell us about these fires in Alberta?   

JOE: Jimmy I’m not sure you’ve ever had me on to talk about good news, but you’re right, this is not a good situation. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 77 fires burning across Alberta, about a third of which were considered “out of control.” More than 1 million acres have burned thus far, which is already more than double the average area that would burn in a normal season. A provincial state of emergency, issued Saturday, also remains in effect.

JIMMY: Have there been any reports of injuries so far? 

JOE: Injuries no, but we have seen notable damage. Several northern Indigenous communities have reported significant losses, including the community of Fox Lake about 350 miles north of Edmonton, that saw 85 homes destroyed, and the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, which lost 45 buildings in addition to power infrastructure. Energy production has also taken a dip, down more than 300,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, though that has begun to rebound. 

JIMMY: Well, what’s the latest? These fires still growing?

JOE: So, there’s been a bit of a reprieve in some areas with cooler temperatures and rain, but hot and windy conditions are forecast for the coming days, especially in the north. On the bright side, fire crews are starting to get outside help, with teams from several other provinces, as well as Oregon and Alaska, arriving to provide much needed additional manpower.

JIMMY: Well, as I always ask, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

JOE: I think the big thing is the weather, and what that means heading into the weekend both for the fires already burning, and the potential for new starts. Some local officials are also calling for a delay to the provincial elections currently scheduled for the end of the month, but that appears unlikely. I do want to wrap this up with a positive, though. The number of people currently under evacuation orders as we record has dropped from its peak of nearly 30,000 down to under 18,000. So there is some progress there.

JIMMY: Well, positive progress sounds like a great place to leave it for today, but as always, I thank you for getting us the news we need to know. Appreciate it. 

JOE: Anytime! And we’ll try to pass along even more good news the next time we meet.

JIMMY: Looking forward to it. Take care.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. And we’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Alex Moore, Jeff Landset and Ahmed Namatalla. Our interview featured editor Joe Veyera and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top image: Wildfires mapped in Alberta. (via Alberta’s wildfire dashboard)

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