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Mini Fort McMurray: Edmonton-area RV park transforms into home away from home

Fort McMurray residents set up temporary homes at Diamond Grove RV Campground. Kendra Slugoski

Paulette Biggar didn’t lose her home, nor was she forced to leave, but since the mandatory evacuation in Fort McMurray on May 3, she hasn’t been home.

“I had my sister go out and empty all the rotten food out of my fridge,” Biggar laughed.

Like so many other families, Biggar set up her home in a camping trailer, she is one of the managers at the Diamond Grove RV Campground in Spruce Grove.

Right now Biggar estimates there are between 600 to 800 people from the Fort McMurray area who have moved into the park. There is a waiting list of residents trying to get in.

“We’re trying and that’s what a lot of people say, it’s become a ‘little Fort McMurray.'”. Kendra Slugoski

Of the 241 camp sites, about 170 are filled with evacuees. The Diamond Grove RV park fast tracked its future expansion plans, moved out trailers from storage to set up more sites and ordered 72 new picnic tables. It set up a Wi-Fi tower, which it hopes to have up and running soon.

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There is now a little park for the kids and the community hall has been transformed into a donation centre.

“It’s great because you see people walk in and they recognize someone they know,” said Biggar. “There’s reunions happening all the time, hugging.”

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Over the last few weeks more families have moved in and so has a sense of community. A school bus picks up children at the front gate and Biggar’s husband is helping those unfamiliar with camp life.

“A lot of people have borrowed units and don’t know how to run the furnace, the hot water tanks.”

READ MORE: What will be up and running in Fort McMurray upon re-entry?

Sheldon and Wendy Pittman, and their three young children, were staying in southern Alberta, but travelled to Spruce Grove to stay at the RV park. They have a newborn. Calis is just two months old, Madan, 5 and Jace, 8.

“Before all this happened I couldn’t even imagine leaving my house with three kids at first with a brand new baby,” Wendy said as she patted the back of her newborn.

“Now we’re just here, there and everywhere.” Kendra Slugoski

The Pittmans are in no rush to head back to their Thickwood home. A boil water advisory and concerns over air quality will keep the mom and children away from the city, likely for another month.

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“I would like to make sure that everything is okay, I would feel a little bit more at ease.” For Wendy, safety is more important.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: City access begins June 1, residents asked to respect phased re-entry

Nelson Sturge feels the same. He’s been in Fort McMurray helping with security and animal rescues. Sturge owns property management and rental companies in Fort McMurray. He left the RV site to set up his tenants, but said his family will not make the trek up north, yet.

“We don’t need to be there so why add to the complexity of getting everybody in?” said Surge.

Biggar welcomes the long-term campers. She is juggling sites and schedules to accommodate her other summer bookings.

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