The last of the Fort McMurray neighbourhoods considered safe enough for re-entry began to welcome back its residents Saturday, on the fourth day of the province’s voluntary phased re-entry plan.
Residents of Grayling Terrace and Draper return to their homes
About 700 people who fled the communities of Grayling Terrace and Draper, which make up Zone 4(b), were eligible to join the thousands of people who arrived in the northern Alberta community earlier in the week after being forced out by a massive wildfire last month.
On Friday, the province said 5,429 vehicles travelled northbound on Highways 63 and 881 while at least 2,276 vehicles travelled northbound on the same highways between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Watch below: The phased re-entry into Fort McMurray continued Saturday although home will never be the same for many who fled their community because of a destructive wildfire just last month. Erin Chalmers reports.
Boil water advisory lifted for part of Fort McMurray
Another sign of the slow return to normalcy over the weekend was the lifting of a boil water advisory for part of Fort McMurray.
On Saturday afternoon, Alberta Health Services announced water quality had been safely restored for citizens living in the Lower Townsite area of the community and that a boil water advisory had been lifted for that particular area.
The Lower Townsite is comprised of the area north of the Hangingstone River, west of the Clearwater River, east of Memorial Drive up to Confederation Bridge, and includes MacDonald Island.
AHS said a boil water advisory remains in effect for all areas west of the Athabasca River, all areas west and southwest of Memorial Drive, and all areas south of the Hangingstone River.
Water consumers in the Lower Townsite area were advised to follow proper flushing procedures outlined in the boil water advisory information document issued online by AHS.
Despite the boil water advisory being lifted for the Lower Townsite, precautions previously outlined will still be followed there until further notice. Meanwhile, people in areas still under the boil water advisory are required to flush their water systems before drawing water to boil.
Residents who are not sure whether their area is under a boil water advisory can check a boil water advisory map online.
Update on firefighting efforts
As of 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, the enormous wildfire remained out of control but was considered to be 56 per cent contained. It now covers more than 581,000 hectares including part of Saskatchewan.
The province said 2,146 firefighters and support staff were battling fires across Alberta with the help of 80 helicopters and 219 pieces of heavy equipment.
Late Saturday afternoon, the Alberta government said some scattered precipitation was documented over some areas of the wildfire on Friday.
The forecast for the Fort McMurray area on Saturday was about 23 degrees Celsius with 30 per cent humidity and west winds blowing at between 25 and 40 kilometres per hour.
Air quality was expected to be low risk, measuring at about two on the Air Quality Health Index on Saturday.
Tours of restricted areas
While the gradual return of residents continued Saturday, there was still no timetable for re-entry into the hard-hit neighbourhoods of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways, considered uninhabitable because of toxins and where debris is still being removed by the municipality.
On Friday, officials unveiled a plan through which residents of those three communities will be allowed supervised visits to their homes beginning Wednesday. People are being told they will be allowed to collect some belongings when they visit.
“These visitations will be facilitated by an NGO group known as Team Rubicon,” Bob Couture, director of the Regional Emergency Operations Centre, said Friday.
To book an appointment to visit a house in a restricted area, call the PULSE line at (780) 743-7000.
For other communities outside the restricted areas, visits to destroyed homes are set to begin Sunday.
Information centres have been set up to help evacuees re-integrate into the community and are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The centres can be accessed at the following locations:
Fort McMurray Composite High School, 9803 King St. (wildfire relief funding debit cards available at this centre)
Vista Ridge, 1 Spruce Valley Dr., Saprae Creek
Anzac Community Hall, 105B-4 Christina Dr., Anzac
Holy Trinity High School, 230 Powder Dr.
Eagle Ridge Community Centre, 301 Sparrow Hawk Dr.
Westwood High School/YMCA, 221 Tundra Dr. (wildfire relief funding debit cards available at this centre)
Oil Sands Discovery Centre, 515 MacKenzie Blvd.
To date, evacuees have returned to: the Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Gregoire Lake Estates, Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge and Dickinsfield neighborhoods, Thickwood, Wood Buffalo, Gregoire, Prairie Creek and Saprae Creek Estates.
Humanitarian aid update
On Thursday, the Canadian Red Cross announced it would spend an additional $50 million to support community organizations with wildfire relief and recovery efforts. The total amount of dollars raised by the the Red Cross now sits at $165 million, but – as government matching dollars are calculated – that number is expected to rise.
Global News has crews in Fort McMurray for the re-entry process. You can follow their coverage through the live blog below: