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Fort McKay band sets up satellite offices in Edmonton, Calgary

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







May 9, 2016.

After opening up its community to Fort McMurray residents who fled north last Tuesday, on the weekend Fort McKay residents came under a voluntary evacuation order.

“The issue is not the proximity to the wildfire as much as it is to heavy smoke that exists in the area. It is a bit of an isolated community and we are concerned that if the fire should shift (so) that we’ve asked for voluntary evacuation,” said Scott Long, executive director operations with Alberta Emergency Management Agency, on Saturday.

Initially 60 seniors and those with existing respiratory issues were airlifted from Fort McKay. By Saturday afternoon, around 300 people had either traveled by air or by ground to Edmonton.

On Monday afternoon, Fort McKay First Nation opened a satellite office at the Wingate Inn in West Edmonton to register its band members. A similar satellite office has opened at the Treaty 7 Management Corp. in Calgary.

“We’re trying to locate all our band members, make sure everybody is taken care of,” said Rose Mueller, spokesperson for Fort McKay First Nation.

Some people are in hotels, others with friends, and some may be at the evacuation reception centres.

Mueller figures that between mandatory evacuation of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on Tuesday and Saturday’s voluntary evacuation of Fort McKay, there are about 600 band members, who headed south. Mueller says Chief Jim Boucher and council are still in Fort McKay.

“There are a lot of questions and people don’t really know what to do,” said Mueller.

Among the issues to be looked at will be people’s health, support services they may require, and longer term accommodations.

She says she does not know when people will be able to return to either Fort McMurray or Fort McKay.

At this point, she adds, she does not know how many of the band’s members lost homes in Fort McMurray.

When the mandatory evacuation order was issued for Wood Buffalo, about 25,000 people went north to camps and to Fort McKay. By Saturday, those evacuees had all made their way north, either by road convoys escorted through Fort McMurray by the RCMP or by air, on transport arranged by the oil and gas companies.