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‘You’re going to get through this,’ former mayor of Slave Lake tells Fort McMurray

Click to play video: 'Former Slave Lake mayor shares insights, experience on 2011 wildfire' Former Slave Lake mayor shares insights, experience on 2011 wildfire
WATCH ABOVE: In May 2011 a wildfire destroyed one third of the northwestern Alberta town of Slave Lake. In the wake of the Fort McMurray wildfire, Karina Pillay, the former mayor of Slave Lake, joined Global News Morning to talk about what residents can expect on the long road to recovery – May 10, 2016

Karina Pillay knows exactly what Melissa Blake is feeling. Five years ago, Pillay was the mayor of Slave Lake when wildfire ripped through that municipality, destroying one-third of the community.

She knows first hand what the Fort McMurray evacuees are going through.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: 1 week after mass exodus of 80K people, fire grows to 229K hectares

“I’m sure there’s a roller coaster of emotions going on,” Pillay said.

“I think it’s a very intense, stressful moment for the evacuees but I’m pretty confident they’re being supported by the numerous people who are opening their homes and the wave of humanity that’s coming their way.”

READ MORE: Where Fort McMurray fire evacuees can get help and information 

Pillay said it took about two years to rebuild about 90 per cent of Slave Lake, which she describes as “remarkable.” She credits the support from the province (there from “Day 1,” she said), the country, and the international community.

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“The outpouring of support was instant,” Pillay said. It was like “one big family trying everything we could to make sure our community was up and running on our return.”

WATCH: A former resident of Slave Lake is offering her perspective on what wildfire evacuees can expect in the coming days and weeks. 

Click to play video: 'Former Slave Lake resident offers insight on what Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees can expect in coming days' Former Slave Lake resident offers insight on what Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees can expect in coming days
Former Slave Lake resident offers insight on what Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees can expect in coming days – May 9, 2016

Still, she says Fort McMurray should be ready for a long recovery effort that will likely take years.

“I would encourage people to think about Fort McMurray and those communities not only in the months to come but next year as well,” Pillay said.

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

She was first elected mayor of the Municipal District of Slave Lake in 2004. In 2013, she stepped down in order to attend medical school in Calgary. She has since graduated and is now completing her residency.

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Still, five years after the disaster that forced her onto the international stage, Pillay says she still hears encouraging words from Slave Lake.

She said the district’s slogan comes to mind often, especially in light of what Fort McMurray is now faced with.

“We’re rugged and real.”

Her advice to those in Fort McMurray?

“Take some comfort in the incredible army that’s on the ground working around the clock for you,” she said. “Also, just embrace the generosity that’s coming your way. You’re not alone in this. You’re going to get through this.”

“They will recover from this and they will be stronger because of it.”

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