The Alberta government will release a plan to let people back into Fort McMurray and neighbouring communities in about two weeks, although some will be met with little more than burned bike frames in their backyards and reams of twisted iron scattered throughout their neighbourhoods.
Premier Rachel Notley, who toured Fort McMurray on Monday, said roughly 2,400 buildings in Fort McMurray have been damaged or destroyed. The hospital, municipal buildings and all of the schools, save for one under construction, have been saved. Most of the critical infrastructure remains, she told reporters in Fort McMurray.
“We will be able to provide a schedule for return within two weeks,” Ms. Notley told reporters at the emergency operations centre that is running out of the city’s Firehall No. 5. “In some cases, re-entry may or may not involve permanent re-entry.”
More than 10 per cent of the buildings in Fort McMurray have been ruined and the fire consuming this region of northern Alberta remains out of control. Hot spots and hazards remain in town, even in areas the fire flattened last week.
The government toured select media through Fort McMurray on Monday, accompanied by RCMP and other officials. In Abasand, apartment complexes have been wiped out, backyards host charred barbecues and blackened metal fences. Houses have been flattened and their contents – from bathtubs to unidentifiable piles of metal – lie twisted and blackened. The streets are largely clear, although the buildings and their contents look like they were hit with a tornado. Pinkish concrete foundations remain.
Across the street, École Boréal and its playground remain untouched. Flags flutter on the flagpole. All of the city’s schools survived, including the one in Beacon Hill. The fire destroyed that community, which is now dotted with gutted vehicles and charred appliances. Beacon Hill’s streetlights remain standing, and on one edge, a bus shelter stands untouched.
Fort McMurray’s downtown and many of its neighbourhoods remain intact. A row of GMC and Chevy trucks are parked tidily on Alberta Motor Products’ lot, ready for purchase. Starbucks, KFC and Shoppers Drug Mart look ready for business.
“There are smouldering hot spots everywhere,” Ms. Notley said. “Active fire suppression is continuing. There are hazardous materials,” she said. “Basic services – gas, water, waste disposal, health care and much more needs to be re-established.”
Impatient residents must stay away, the Premier said. “Don’t drive for four hours just to be told by the RCMP at the checkpoint outside of Fort McMurray that you have to turn around.”
The United States, Russia, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority all offered help, said John Babcock, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson. Mr. Babcock said offers are considered against the technical needs on the ground and by the experts fighting the fire, and that the need for international assistance is not anticipated.
In a press release last week, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov offered to send Ilyushin Il-76 water bombers, and Russian rescuers and specialists with the necessary equipment, to help fight the Fort McMurray fire. Kirill Kalinin, press secretary for the Russian embassy in Ottawa, said on Monday morning that Russia had not yet heard back from the Canadian government about its offer. Mr. Kalinin said the offer stands and that the Russians are eager to help.
But Canada does not need any international help to fight the Fort McMurray wildfire at this point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.
“The good news is from the support that we’ve seen from Canadians across the country, different provinces sending over water bombers, engaged in all sorts of different ways, firefighters coming from all across the country to help, is that there is no need to accept any international assistance at this point. But we certainly thank everyone for their generosity,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
Officials estimate between 85 per cent and 90 per cent of Fort McMurray escaped the fire. Roughly 70 per cent of Slave Lake survived the fire that ripped through that area of Alberta in 2011, although Slave Lake is much smaller than Fort McMurray.
This fire has destroyed 12 structures in Anzac, a hamlet that served as an evacuation centre until Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Notley said, noting the town is now secure.
The fire around Fort McMurray has chewed through about 204,000 hectares, and was about 25 to 30 kilometres east of the Saskatchewan boundary on Monday, Ms. Notley said.
Fire Chief Darby Allen said the damage could not have been prevented.
“I truly believe nothing else could have been done that wasn’t done to protect the people and the structures within our city,” he told reporters on Monday.
Teams are examining infrastructure and trying to secure the city, he said.
“We have large of areas of town that have no power. We have large areas of town that have no water. And we have large areas of town that have no gas,” Mr. Allen said. “We have to ensure that that critical infrastructure is in place and it is safe for our residents to return.”
Mr. Allen acknowledged that residents will not be able to return quickly, but asked evacuees to be patient. “We are dedicating every necessary resource to bringing you home,” he said.
Roughly 90,000 people have been evacuated because of the fire. About 30,000 of those have landed in Edmonton, Ms. Notley said. Another 5,000 people are in Calgary and 2,000 in Lac La Biche. About 25,000 more people have told the Red Cross they are out of the city, but have not alerted officials to their whereabouts.
A stomach virus has struck dozens of the Fort McMurray evacuees now being temporarily lodged in Edmonton. On the weekend, 40 to 50 cases consistent with viral gastroenteritis were reported at the reception facility at Northlands, said Christopher Sikora, the local senior medical officer of health.
Symptoms included nausea and vomiting, and the ailment struck both adults and children, Dr. Sikora told reporters.
“This is not unexpected, given the large numbers of people who are using and living at that site,” Alberta Health Services said in a statement.
FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May 09, 2016 6:38PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, May 10, 2016 5:54AM EDT