May 5, 2016.
The fire is still burning hot and as of yet there is no timeline for when residents will move back to Fort McMurray, but that doesn’t mean planning hasn’t already begun.
Bill Loutitt, vice-president for the McMurray Metis Local, says a private company has already approached the local about using their land to set up a temporary camp, perhaps of modulars, that could accommodate 500 people. The local owns land along Highway 63, across from the Sawridge and Super 8 hotels, both of which were destroyed by fire.
Unfortunately, the local has the land available because it, too, was gutted by fire.
“Our office, Metis local, burnt right to the ground. There’s nothing left but ashes,” said Loutitt. “We have to work to get that back up.”
Located near the campground in Gregoire, one of the first areas evacuated earlier in the week, Loutitt says they were able to go back in and retrieve the computers, just before the total evacuation of the community on Tuesday.
“There were still a lot of artifacts, stuff we were saving for our museum. So they were able to save some of it. I’m not sure where they took it to, but if it was any place that burned to the ground, it’s not really going to help,” said Loutitt.
He says the board will have to get together and decide what steps to take next. The local does have money it can invest in a joint venture with the private company.
Loutitt says McMurray Metis Local office manager Laura Waniandy had her home in the neighbourhood of Waterways burned. Waterways is one of six neighbourhoods that sustained what has been categorized as serious loss.
Loutitt lives in the neighbourhood of Thickwood. As far as he knows his house is still standing. Thickwood and Timberlea, along with key infrastructure in Fort McMurray, are presently the main focus of firefighting efforts in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Figures have not been updated yet as to structural loss but earlier numbers tallied 1,600 homes and businesses.
Loutitt evacuated north and is staying in a lodge just outside of Fort McKay. He has nothing but good things to say about the people of Fort McKay.
“Fort McKay was very generous, all the people opened up their homes to the people coming from the south,” he said. “I want to congratulate Fort McKay community for their generosity and quickness to find accommodation for everybody who showed up.”
The province is now working on a plan with the oil and gas industry and the Department of National Defence to move the approximately 25,000 evacuees who sought refuge north of Fort McMurray to Edmonton or Calgary. Scott Long, executive director operations with Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said they are looking to airlift about 8,000 evacuees and then supplying fuel to the remainder to drive south once Highway 63 is deemed safe and passable. Air transportation is supposed to begin this afternoon.