Fort McMurray residents continued to return Friday to see the destruction caused to their city by wildfire, and assess the status of their homes and businesses.
Friday marked the third day of the phased re-entry plan. Residents of Zones 3 and 4(a) were allowed to come home, which includes people who live in the neighbourhoods of Thickwood, Wood Buffalo, Gregoire, Prairie Creek and Saprae Creek Estates.
On Friday afternoon, officials announced a plan by which residents in the three areas deemed uninhabitable due to toxins – Waterways, Beacon Hill and Abasand – would be allowed supervised visits to their homes beginning June 8.
Visits to homes inside the three restricted areas will begin June 8. Visits to destroyed homes outside restricted areas will begin June 5. The municipality was able to move the visitation dates up earlier because the process of applying “tackifier” has gone more quickly than expected.
“These visitations will be facilitated by an NGO group known as Team Rubicon,” Bob Couture, director of the Regional Emergency Operations Centre, said.
To book an appointment to visit a house in a restricted area, call the PULSE line at (780) 743-7000.
“For safety reasons, residents will not be allowed to visit destroyed homes on their own,” Couture explained.
Once on site, residents can instruct Team Rubicon members where to sift for specific items. Scroll down to learn more about Team Rubicon.
Global News has crews in Fort McMurray for the re-entry process. You can follow their coverage through the live blog below:
The not-for-profit organization was created by two U.S. marines. It is made up of former or current members of Canadian and U.S. Forces. They’ve been involved in more than 100 operations in the U.S. but this is their first one in Canada.
The team will have 25 members in Fort McMurray by Monday.
“We’re going to be here to help facilitate the retrieval of small items,” team manager Bob Obernier said. The Navy veteran and retired fire battalion chief said Team Rubicon is working with Occupational Health and Safety in Alberta to make sure it is meeting all safety requirements.
He wants Fort McMurray residents to feel reassured by his team’s involvement.
“It’s a hazardous environment and our guys are trained,” Obernier said. “We’ve got the right equipment.”
“There’s a high level of training and requirements through Occupational Health and Safety and we can’t do that on the fly with residents.”
He explained there could be hazardous materials in the debris that hasn’t been identified yet.
“We’re well trained. We’ve done this before.”
Hotel increasing rates:
Mayor Melissa Blake said one hotel was charging 30 to 40 per cent more for rooms than its rates prior to the evacuation.
She wouldn’t name the specific hotel, but said now is the time the city should be banding together.
Couture stressed that all apartments, homes, work camps and hotels must maintain the same prices that were in effect before the evacuation. The rates must remain the same until the state of local emergency is lifted.
“We will be monitoring this issue closely,” he said.
Anyone with concerns about price gouging should contact the municipality’s PULSE information line at 1-780-743-7000.
The Welcome Bridge:
As they have been doing since Day 1 of re-entry, emergency responders welcomed people back Friday with Canadian and Alberta flags over a bridge over Highway 63.
“When you come to the top of the hill there, you come around the corner and you see this,” Cpl. George Cameron explained. “We’re getting lots of thumbs up, lots of double-hand waving…big smiles on people’s faces.”
Two big fire trucks sit on top of the bridge at the first overpass into Fort McMurray. Along with the flags, people are greeted by firefighters, RCMP, police and other first responders.
“We’re calling it the Welcome Bridge,” Jonathan Bruggeling, a firefighter with the Fort McMurray Fire Deptartment, said. “Everyone is honking, having fun, saying hi.”
The return, he says, is moving for everyone involved.
“All the time, emotions come up,” Bruggeling said. “Every time, to hear a honk, it’s another family saying thank you.”
While tears have been shed this week, the signs of revival around the city – like the re-opening of a Tim Hortons – have brought smiles to people’s faces.
“A lot of times we come here and have coffee, so it’s nice to see the boys,” resident Gerald Maynard said. “So it’s really nice to be back home and see what’s here but it’s sad to see some of the areas.”
Gerald said it’s been inspiring to see the Fort McMurray residents and people outside the community rally to begin the long rebuild.
“We see everybody just helping. It’s unbelievable how people are coming together.”
On the first two days of re-entry, Mayor Blake said between 22,000 and 24,000 residents came back out of a possible 53,000 who were eligible.
The fire remains out of control and is 581,695 hectares. Nearly 56 per cent is contained.
There are 2,146 firefighters and support staff, 80 helicopters and 219 pieces of heavy equipment battling the blaze.
Red Cross support:
The Canadian Red Cross announced Thursday an additional $50 million to support community organizations with wildfire relief and recovery efforts. The total amount of dollars from the Red Cross now sits at $165 million, but – as government matching dollars are calculated – that number is expected to rise.
The dates and communities scheduled for re-entry are as follows:
- Zone 1: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake Estates (June 1)
- Zone 2: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (June 2)
- Zone 3: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (June 3)
- Zone 4(a): Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (Friday, June 3)
- Zone 4(b): Grayling Terrace, Draper (June 4)