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Fort McMurray wildfire: 2nd debit card distribution centre added in Edmonton

EDMONTON – One day after Fort McMurray fire evacuees lined up by the hundreds to pick up pre-loaded debit cards at three designated centres, the province announced a second location in Edmonton.

Another debit card location added

On Wednesday and Thursday morning, huge lineups were seen outside the centres at Edmonton’s Butterdome, Calgary’s McMahon Stadium and the Bold Centre Lac La Biche.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees line up for emergency funds in droves for second day

“We have added a second location in Edmonton for evacuees to pick up their debit cards,” Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said.

She announced Thursday a second location will be set up at NAIT in the main lobby from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be free parking available.

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Larivee said more than $7 million in assistance was handed out Wednesday.

WATCH: Fort McMurray evacuees receive more than $7M in assistance, says municipal affairs minister

Fort McMurray evacuees receive more than $7M in assistance, says municipal affairs minister
Fort McMurray evacuees receive more than $7M in assistance, says municipal affairs minister

She said providing e-transfers instead of pre-loaded debit cards was considered as an option, but the province knew the Red Cross would be using e-transfers and Alberta wanted to provide financial flexibility to evacuees by offering assistance another way. She also noted not everyone prefers online banking.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Red Cross gives $50M, Alberta gives $100M in emergency funding 

Long lineups were already visible at NAIT Thursday once the new distribution location was announced.

A second distribution centre for cash cards opens in Edmonton at NAIT, May 12, 2016.
A second distribution centre for cash cards opens in Edmonton at NAIT, May 12, 2016. Wes Rosa, Global News
A second distribution centre for cash cards opens in Edmonton at NAIT, May 12, 2016.
A second distribution centre for cash cards opens in Edmonton at NAIT, May 12, 2016. Wes Rosa, Global News

Steve Randell, who lost his home in the Abasand area, was in line at NAIT, after deciding not to lineup Wednesday.

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“I just wanted to give other people a chance to go first – people who probably needed it more,” he said.

He said the wait wasn’t too bad.

“Everywhere you go there’s a lineup, that’s just the way it is. There’s a lot of people displaced.”

WATCH: Stories of those waiting for hours to pick up their pre-paid debit cards in Edmonton 

Thousands of Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees wait hours to get pre-paid debit cards
Thousands of Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees wait hours to get pre-paid debit cards

In Lac La Biche, Charlotte Rowe was waiting in line to get her provincial debit card. She received the e-transfer from the Red Cross Wednesday.

“Anything is a help,” she said. “Appreciate anything we get.”

Luke Brule said creditors have been sensitive to their situation.

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“When we mentioned we were from Fort McMurray, they were gracious enough to give us a levy of three months. Our truck payments have been looked after, everything has been looked after.”

WATCH: Municipal affairs minister talks additional financial assistance for Fort McMurray evacuees

Municipal affairs minister talks additional financial assistance for Fort McMurray evacuees
Municipal affairs minister talks additional financial assistance for Fort McMurray evacuees

Fire status

Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire said the fire now burning east of Fort McMurray is roughly 241,000 hectares.

There are still hot spots in the vegetation surrounding the city. There were also flare-ups on MacDonald Island and in Anzac because of hot spots Wednesday, Larivee said.

Fort McMurray
Calgary firefighters helping to put out hot spots along Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray on May 12, 2016. Dani Lantela / Global News

“We’ve had a bit of a break this week in terms of colder weather,” Larivee said, but added temperatures are expected to rise next week.

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Morrison said there are currently more than 850 firefighters working the blaze, along with 104 helicopters, 26 air tankers and 154 pieces of heavy equipment. The fire is about 15 kilometres away from the Saskatchewan border.

He said it hasn’t reached any oilsands facilities at this point.

WATCH: Wildfire manager says Fort McMurray blaze sits at 241,000 hectares

Wildfire manager says Fort McMurray blaze more than 241,000 hectares in size
Wildfire manager says Fort McMurray blaze more than 241,000 hectares in size

Stabilization and recovery

The minister said the focus is now shifting to “stabilization and recovery,” stressing it’s “not yet safe for residents to return.”

Last week, the provincial government asked for support from the Canadian Armed Forces. Members helped with the evacuation, provided supplies to isolated communities and transported firefighting equipment and personnel.

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Larivee said now that the focus is on recovery, “Armed Forces assistance is not required at this time.”

READ MORE: Edmonton ready to deploy 3 teams to Fort McMurray to begin assessing damage 

She said she completely understands why people are frustrated and want to go back home, but reiterated it is simply not safe.

“Your safety is too important to us and your community is not yet safe.”

Larivee said three main things have to happen before evacuees can return:

  1. Ensure the danger of the fire to the community has passed;
  2. Repair critical infrastructure;
  3. Restore essential services like gas, water, sewer, healthcare, EMS, fire and police;
  4. Secure hazardous areas;
  5. Re-establish local government.

READ MORE: ‘We should be proud’: Fire chief Darby Allen opens up about Fort McMurray wildfire 

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is sending two specialists to Fort McMurray to help emergency personnel check out radiological devices that may have been affected by the wildfire.
The commission says it got a request for assistance Thursday from Alberta’s provincial emergency operations centre. Luc Sigouin, the commission’s director of emergency management programs, stresses it is a precautionary move.

State of Fort McMurray

Scott Long with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said the current damage assessment shows 2,432 structures have been lost, 530 damaged, and 25,000 still standing.

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Larivee said 530 structures have already been examined from the outside to see how safe or unsafe they are.

“We expect it will take about five days to complete the coding of homes,” she said, adding insurance assessors are also on scene examining homes from the outside.

ATCO is on scene and power and data have been restored to the downtown.

When asked about re-entry plans, the minister said, “a schedule is expected within a week and a half.”

WATCH: Five years ago, a wildfire ripped through Slave Lake, Alta., destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. The majority has since been rebuilt, but as Vassy Kapelos explains, there are still obvious signs of the disaster.
Fort McMurray looks at lessons learned from 2011 Slave Lake wildfire
Fort McMurray looks at lessons learned from 2011 Slave Lake wildfire
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