Fort McMurray wildfire: residents face difficult road to recovery, expert says

WATCH ABOVE: Dramatic video of the ongoing Fort McMurray wildfire

A social scientist who has studied the aftermath of four major fires in western Canada says residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., face a difficult journey in the months and years ahead.

University of Lethbridge professor Judith Kulig says those affected by a devastating wildfire in the northern Alberta city will run the gamut of emotions from shock to elation to crippling anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

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About 1,600 homes and other buildings have been burned to the ground in Fort McMurray, forcing tens of thousands to flee to nearby communities in what officials have called the biggest fire evacuation in the province’s history.

Kulig, whose research includes the fire that ripped through Slave Lake, Alta., in 2011, says children in that community struggled in the classroom because of anxiety that went unnoticed at home.

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She also says that the traumatic events will likely exacerbate pre-existing problems such as substance abuse and domestic violence.

However, Kulig says her research shows the human spirit is resilient despite the problems residents will face in the aftermath of the fire.

Mental health support is available by calling Alberta’s 24-hour Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.