FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – Nothing seems amiss looking at the front of Adam Chouinard’s Fort McMurray house, aside for the yellow “restricted use” sign taped to the door.
But the back is a jumbled mess of wood beams and unrecognizable debris.
“I had a deck, a barbecue, a garage, a car, a couple of bikes and now they’re gone,” the 33-year-old oilsands worker said as he waited for a contractor to stop by and assess the damage.
Chouinard’s street is at the edge of a scene of extreme destruction. Just beyond what used to be his backyard is a white-grey mass of rubble and charred vehicles.
He and other north-end evacuees were allowed back into the city Thursday, a month after raging flames forced everyone to flee. The city’s largely undamaged downtown and some smaller surrounding communities re-opened on Wednesday.
A bulldozer clipped the siding of Chouinard’s house in a few spots during the frantic fight to keep the fire at bay. Heat blew out some windows, causing severe smoke damage inside.
He and his wife were trying to stay optimistic, even though they don’t know when they’ll be able to live in their home again.
“Now we’re just here to pick up the pieces and rebuild it better than before,” he said.
“Fort McMurray has given us a lot and we’re just looking forward to giving back.”
Down the block, Susan Barron was absorbing the scene a half-hour after getting back into town. Her back deck is mostly intact, though she’s not sure it’s safe to use. Her backyard and garage are destroyed.
“My husband had a lot of tools and antique things from his grandfather in the garage and he’s still very hurt by the loss. It’s things that aren’t replaceable,” said Barron, a retired police officer and paramedic.
Barron’s daughter lives in the basement and she doesn’t know whether sump pumps to keep water out worked.
She figures it’ll be a few months at least before she and her family can live in the house again.
“I can’t imagine that this cleanup is going to happen that quickly and be able to get someone to come in and do the work, when everybody else is in worse condition, their houses are gone,” said Barron.
Maggie Macdonald checked on her nearby home and found it undamaged, but she wasn’t rejoicing.
She was astonished by all of the destruction.
“I got into my vehicle and looked straight ahead and my heart just dropped to the ground,” Macdonald said, struggling to hold back tears.
“We have friends that are right now going through a lot of stress.”