UPDATED May 4, 2016.
Fort McKay First Nation has opened its three company lodges, school, band hall and any available building in the community to house evacuees from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
“People started coming in yesterday afternoon. When (the authorities) started talking about evacuation, people just hit the highway,” said Rose Mueller, spokesperson for Fort McKay First Nation.
Initially, Highway 63 was open only to northbound traffic when the evacuation order was given to about 30,000 people on Fort McMurray’s southside. Later, all residents, approximately 88,000, were told to evacuate. At that time, Highway 63 was still only allowing northbound traffic.
Much later in the day, traffic was allowed to go south as well on Highway 63.
Mueller says earlier in the day Chief Jim Boucher and council made the decision to do whatever they could for the evacuees.
“One of our councillors was even standing on the road trying to direct traffic, trying to help as much as they could,” she said.
There are 2,000 people staying in the three lodges – Noralta, Barge Landing, and Creeburn - located about 55 km north of Fort McMurray on Highway 63. Another 500 people are staying in the hall and school at the townsite. Mueller says there are even more people sleeping in vehicles and campers in the community.
Evacuees are numb, she says.
“Some of these people have lost their homes. They’re still kind of in shock. They don’t know. They’re waking up in a lodge, they’re thankful they have their families, but now it’s ‘now what?’” said Mueller.
The community has pulled together, she says, providing what it can for food and blankets. Supper was served at Barge Landing Lodge on Tuesday and a hot breakfast on Wednesday morning. Evacuees in Fort McKay were transported to the lodge for breakfast. Brion Energy came through with blankets and Shell Albian also opened rooms at its lodge.
“That was a concern, as well. We have double the occupancy in the community and you’re just not prepared,” she said.
Mueller says Logistics, one of Fort McKay’s Group of Companies, is trucking fruit, juice, and water out from Edmonton today.
The community is proud to be able to help out, she says.
“They’re doing what they can. It’s just nice to see the community come together,” said Mueller. “Chief and council have done absolutely everything they can and will continue to do so until we have more of an idea of what’s going on.”
In a news conference led by Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake and Regional Fire Chief Darby Allen Wednesday morning, residents were directed to stay at their evacuated accommodations. Allen said with the dry weather, impending winds and low humidity, today was expected to be worse than Tuesday.
“Today we’re in for a significant challenge again,” said Allen. “We hope to be in better position by the end of day to see what our plan is for the future.”
Mueller says in the back of everybody’s minds is concern about the fire spreading north.
“Who knows? We didn’t think this would happen in Fort McMurray either,” she said.
A recent posting on Fort McKay’s Facebook page stated, “There is no evacuation of Fort McKay at this time and we are asking people to remain calm.”
An emergency operation update is scheduled for the band hall at 1 p.m. today.
If you are on the highway andrun our of gas:
RCMP Dispatch - 780-788-4000
Red Cross Family Reunification Number: