May 18, 2016.
As soon as Highway 63 is open to safe travel and smoke is no longer a concern, evacuees from
Fort McMurray First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation can return home.
On Wednesday afternoon, Premier Rachel Notley rolled out a four-phase re-entry plan for Fort McMurray and Anzac residents, beginning June 1. Re-entry to Fort McMurray was based on five conditions having to be met: wildfire no longer an imminent threat; critical infrastructure to support essential services repaired and restored to provide a basic service level; essential services, including fire, police, access to food and pharmaceuticals, restored to basic level; hazardous areas are secured; and local government re-established.
“Because there is no damage on Fort McKay First Nation or Fort McMurray First Nation, they are not subject to those five conditions, so basically it just comes down to road access and smoke …. So when the smoke clears sufficiently and they’re able to get there, they’re back,” said Brent Wittmeier, press secretary for Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan.
The longest they would have to wait, according to the re-entry plan, is June 1, he said.
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake said setting a date for re-entry for Fort McMurray residents was “wonderful news.”
Brian Jean, Wildrose Opposition leader and Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA, said it was a “great sense of relief” to hear a re-entry plan. Jean, who lost his home to the wildfire, was emotional as he spoke. He said he was “fiercely proud of our city, fiercely proud of Albertans. I am fiercely proud of the work we do ….We will rebuild our city better than it’s ever been before.”
“These timelines … are dependent on the five conditions being met. And it’s a balancing act. We don’t want to have people completely commit to certain dates but at the same time we’ve been hearing more and more that people need to have some idea of the dates they’re dealing with,” said Notley.
Phased re-entry will allow for controlled traffic flow on Highway 63 as well as ensuring limited services are not overwhelmed by the influx of people. However, Notley said she does not expect the majority of people to return right away.
She stressed that, as has been the case all along, safety will still be the key priority.
Five conditions were set out as needing to be met before evacuees could return: wildfire no longer an imminent threat; critical infrastructure to support essential services repaired and restored to provide a basic service level; essential services, including fire, police, access to food and pharmaceuticals, restored to basic level; hazardous areas are secured; and local government re-established.
Those living in Anzac and the lower town site in Fort McMurray will be the first to re-enter the region. They will be followed by north Fort McMurray, including the neighbourhoods of Timberlea and Thickwood on June 2; south Fort McMurray including Gregoire and Saline Creek on June 3: and Abasand, Beacon Hills, Waterways and Saprae Creek on June 4. Those coming to the most damaged neighbourhoods would be there primarily for viewing.
Residences that have been severely damaged will be fenced off, said Scott Long, executive director operations Alberta Emergency Management Agency, and if there are tours “they will be done under escort … safety drives everything.”
The issue of accommodation for these people will be dealt with in the upcoming days by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said Notley.
Residents with no homes and without sufficient insurance will be able to access special government funding through the Wildfire Evacuation Transitional Accommodation Benefit, which was approved by Cabinet on Wednesday. Coverage will be given for 90 days from the date of evacuation.
Notley stressed that residents returning in early June would not be returning to a fully functioning community but instead to a community that would offer basic services. As the hospital will not be able to offer full emergency service or acute inpatient care, those with medical conditions are asked to delay their return. The hospital is expected to be fully functioning by June 15. A boil water advisory is expected to remain in effect until the end of June. All roads will be safe to travel. School will resume formal classes in September and all students will be advanced to the next grade.
Notley said residents need to bring staples including prescriptions, bottled water, and three to seven days of food, including pet food.
She said that the date had been set based on information consolidated by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency and the best advice of officials on the ground.
“They gave us dates, then we pushed it up a little bit to allow for some flexibility,” said Notley.
Chad Morrison, senior manager with Alberta wildfire prevention, said the fire, now grown to 423,000 hectares, was burning into the forested area. He also said that ground already burned was a natural fireguard for the community and offered extra reassurance.