Weeks after a raging wildfire forced them to leave their homes, Fort McMurray residents began to return in the thousands to some neighbourhoods, with more still to come. But residents aren't going back to business as usual: Some city services are closed, a boil-water advisory is in effect and smoke exposure is still a risk. Here's a primer
- Tens of thousands of people evacuated from Fort McMurray after last month’s wildfire have returned to check on their homes since Wednesday.
- Residents returning are tackling stinking refrigerators, grass grown tall and infested with dandelions and other cleanup hazards.
- The neighbourhoods of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways will be off-limits “until further notice,” the regional municipality says, which means the return of about 2,000 evacuees will be delayed.
For the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo's latest information on re-entry plans, check their website or the Twitter stream below:
WHEN CAN RESIDENTS RETURN?
Re-entry took place in stages for different neighbourhoods. Here's where the various re-entry zones are:
- Wednesday, June 1: People from Fort McMurray’s Lower Townsite, including the downtown, as well as from the nearby communities of Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation and Gregoire Lake Estates.
- Thursday, June 2: People living on the north side of Fort McMurray in the neighbourhoods of Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge and Dickensfield.
- Friday, June 3: Residents of north-central and south Fort McMurray in the neighbourhoods of Thickwood, Wood Buffalo, Gregoire, Prairie Creek and Saprae Creek Estates.
- Still to come: Government officials expect the return for most evacuees to be completed by June 15. As many as 2,000 people with undamaged homes in Waterways, Abasand and Beacon Hill have been told it is unsafe for them to move back. Fort McMurray’s mayor told The Globe it isn’t certain that the worst-hit areas will be rebuilt.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
- Enough food, drinking water and prescription medication to last up to 14 days. A boil-water advisory continues to be in effect and stores are still being cleaned up and restocked.
- N-95 dust masks to reduce smoke exposure. The masks are available at hardware stores and one per household will be included in the Canadian Red Cross cleaning kits available at information centres.
- Appropriate clothing, including boots, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves.
- A camera to document any damage for insurance purposes.
- A flashlight, as some homes may not have power.
WHAT SHOULD I DO FIRST?
- If you lost your home: You may want to inspect your property and salvage belongings.
- If you didn’t: Those with houses still standing are advised to do a thorough cleaning and toss out rotting food. The Red Cross is providing cleaning kits and other per-household financial assistance for returnees; here’s more information on what’s available.
WHAT SERVICES WILL STILL BE RUNNING?
- Health care: The Northern Lights Regional Heath Centre, the city’s only hospital, is not expected to return to full operations until after June 21. Its emergency department is to be open this week and some limited services are to be available in the beginning days of the re-entry. A temporary urgent care centre has been set up outside the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre.
- Schools: Classes are to resume in September. Students can finish their school year in communities where they have been staying since the evacuation.
- Waste disposal: Normal residential garbage collection is to resume June 16 and temporary transfer stations are to be available beginning June 2.
- Airport: Commercial air service to Fort McMurray International Airport is tentatively scheduled to resume June 10.
- Stores: Crews have been working to get critical businesses such as banks, grocery stores and pharmacies running again. Supplies of some items may be limited in the beginning and the government says some things may need to be rationed.
With reports from Jeffrey Jones and Justin Giovannetti