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Fort McMurray wildfire: Homeowners get first chance to sift through destroyed properties

Recovery work underway
Watch Above: Volunteers from Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, worked Sunday to help Fort McMurray residents recover items from their destroyed homes. Tom Vernon reports.

Fort McMurray residents whose homes were destroyed during last month’s wildfire got their first chance to sift through the devastation on their properties Sunday and try to recover what’s left of their possessions.

Because of safety concerns, residents of the ruined homes were accompanied by officials as a condition of being allowed to visit.

Sunday’s tours were only offered to residents who live outside of the three restricted neighbourhoods: Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways. Residents of those communities are not being allowed in because officials say there are concerns about toxins found there and debris is still being cleared.

On Sunday, the province said crews were applying a tackifier to debris in hard-hit areas in Beacon Hill, Centennial Trailer Park, Saprae Creek and Draper.

A tackifier is a powdery substance that dries to a hard shell. it is applied in order to prevent ash and other contaminants from becoming airborne.

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The province says it is an environmentally safe and non-toxic compound commonly used in landfills.

Crews have already finished applying the substance to areas in Waterways and Abasand.

Supervised visits to homes in the restricted areas of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways are set to begin Wednesday at which time the province said crews are expected to have completed applying the tackifier.

READ MORE: Visits to 3 restricted Fort McMurray neighbourhoods to begin June 8

To book an appointment to visit a house in a restricted area, call the PULSE line at (780) 743-7000.

Update on firefighting efforts

As of 3 p.m. on Sundayy, the province said the massive wildfire continued to burn out of control but was considered to be 58 per cent contained. It now covers more than 581,000 hectares including a part of Saskatchewan.

According to the province, 2,705 firefighters and support staff are now battling fires across Alberta with the help of 94 helicopters and 236 pieces of heavy equipment.

Weather conditions

Sunday afternoon, the Alberta government said “extreme burning conditions” continue to exist in some areas of the fire.

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The Fort McMurray area was expected to reach around 23 degrees Celsius Sunday with 30 per cent humidity and winds west at 15 km/h. Temperatures in the area are forecast to be in the mid-20s over the next few days.

Air quality was expected to be low risk, measuring at about three on the Air Quality Health Index Sunday.

Update on voluntary, phased re-entry plan

On Sunday afternoon, the Alberta government said the phased, voluntary re-entry into Fort McMurray was complete for all zones.

A voluntary phased re-entry into the community began earlier in the week and Saturday, the last two neighbourhoods considered safe enough for re-entry were opened up to residents Saturday.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Final day of re-entry for liveable neighbourhoods

Military veterans and reservists will be taking residents through Fort McMurray’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods on Wednesday. On Sunday, they already began visiting homes in areas where fences block access because of damage. Gord Steinke caught up with two members of the non-profit mission ahead of their mission to help residents find valuables and closure.
Non-profit group helps Fort McMurray residents find valuables
Non-profit group helps Fort McMurray residents find valuables

The Alberta government said 4,190 vehicles travelled northbound on Highways 63 and 881 Saturday, while 5,429 vehicles travelled northbound on the same roads Friday.

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Since voluntary re-entry began on June 1, the province said a total of 31,016 people have visited information centres.

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. However, water consumers in the Lower Townsite are still being asked to follow certain precautions until further notice.

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 map online.

Information centres continue 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

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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.

On Sunday, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo announced three information centres would close Sunday evening because a lower volume of residents are now returning compared with the initial days of the phased re-entry plan. The information centres that are set to close are the Anzac Community Centre, Vista Ridge and Eagle Ridge Community Centre.

Information for residents returning to Fort McMurray

Provincial officials say that although some grocery, hardware and convenience stores are open, evacuees re-entering Fort McMurray should still bring basic necessities with them like food, drinking water and prescriptions, and to bring enough to last for up to 14 days.

For now, residents are also being asked to help ensure the community’s water infrastructure is not overwhelmed by keeping showers, laundry and vehicle washing to a minimum.

Telephone town halls have been scheduled for Monday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 8. They will run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Evacuees who have registered their cellphone numbers and emergency contact numbers with the Red Cross will be phoned before 7 p.m. on the evening of the call.

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On Sunday, officials said they continue to monitor reports of possible price gouging in the the Fort McMurray area. Service Alberta is deploying a consumer investigation team to look into reports of possible scams and price gouging for renovations, accommodations, home inspections etc.

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency has been asked by local authorities to set fixed prices for hotels and rental properties at April 30 rates. Residents concerned about price gouging are asked to contact the municipality’s PULSE information line at 1-780-743-7000.

Global News has crews in Fort McMurray for the re-entry process. You can follow their coverage through the live blog below: