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Fort McMurray wildfire: residents of 2 restricted neighbourhoods to return home

WATCH ABOVE: After months of waiting for answers, Fort McMurray residents still not allowed to return home got some good news. As provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon explains, starting next week, hundreds of residents will be allowed back.

Residents from more than 400 homes in the Abasand and Beacon Hill neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray will be allowed to return home at the end of the month.

Phase 1 of the green zone re-entry process will begin Aug. 31. A total of 439 homes are included in this zone.

“I am delighted that we get to say welcome home to a few more members of our precious Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Abasand and in Beacon Hill,” Melissa Blake, the mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said Thursday morning.

“It’s been a hard slug and I’m glad we’ve got this major milestone achieved,” said councillor Sheldon Germain, who sits on the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee.

“Today is a major milestone.”

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Watch below: Aerial footage above Fort McMurray shows the devastation in Abasand and Beacon Hill, captured on May 7, 2016

Fort McMurray wildfire: Aerial footage of the destruction in Abasand and Beacon Hill
Fort McMurray wildfire: Aerial footage of the destruction in Abasand and Beacon Hill

RMWB officials said information stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 to assist residents.

The return home will come nearly four months after more than 80,000 people were forced out of the northern Alberta region due to a raging wildfire in the Fort McMurray area.

Beacon Hill resident Tom Clarke said his home was untouched by the wildfire. He said the past few months have been a total whirlwind.

“I guess today would be the first positive we’ve had since May 3,” he said. “We’re excited and we’re ready to come home.

“First thing, I’m probably going to have a nice cold beer and the wife will have a nice cold drink.”

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READ MORE: All of Fort McMurray evacuated as wildfire intensifies

Clarke said while he’s been allowed to visit his home, he’s really looking forward to sleeping in his own bed. He and his family have been staying with friends for the past three months.

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“There’s not many people in the neighbourhood, but people are coming back, they’re getting their grass cut, they’re getting ready to come home,” he said.

“There was just uncertainty but I think after today you’re really going to see people back in the neighbourhood and getting their houses up and going.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray faced with yet another hurdle: fire at food bank

The phased re-entry of Fort McMurray began on June 1, but the neighbourhoods of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways were deemed uninhabitable and residents were not allowed to return home.

Much work has gone into making sure the areas are safe for residents. In the weeks and months following the wildfire, crews have worked to remove debris, apply multiple layers of tackifier to destroyed homes and monitor the ash and soil conditions.

The chief medical officer of health from Alberta Health Services was on site on Friday to ensure the area is safe for residents to live.

READ MORE: ‘It’s eerie’: Thousands of residents return home after Fort McMurray wildfire

While it’s welcome news to the hundreds of people who will be able to go back home, Blake said the message is bittersweet.

“We have many who will not be able yet to find their path to recovery,” she said. “We know that not everyone is even going to be ready to go home at this point but you need to know that we will continue to work inevitably to that end so that we can get our residents back where they belong.”

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There are still areas of Abasand and Beacon Hill that remain restricted. Residents who live in Waterways, the third neighbourhood deemed uninhabitable earlier this summer, have not yet been allowed to return home.

Councillors said details for re-entry of the remaining areas of Fort McMurray would be released in the coming weeks.

“I just want to make sure that the rest of the residents (know) you’re not lost on us. Please don’t think you’re forgotten about. It’s going to take a little more time, a little more patience,” councillor Keith McGrath said. “Staff will continue to work until everybody is home safe.”

Maps outlining which homes are included in the green zone can be found on the RMWB’s website.

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