After four long months away from home following May’s horrific Fort McMurray wildfire, hundreds of select residents of the Beacon Hill and Abasand neighbourhoods were finally allowed to return home Wednesday.
Phase one of the green zone re-entry process began Wednesday, with residents of 439 homes in the two neighbourhoods being allowed to return. These homes suffered less damage than the most devastated areas.
Officials from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) 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.
“It is all signs of progress. I have to say that again the tragedy we’ve all been through also brings a silver lining, and the silver lining is in the recessive economy that we’ve been dealing with has certainly perked up because of the extra efforts that people are able to put into reclaiming, re-mediating and taking care of their homes,” Mayor Melissa Blake said.
However, some families who were allowed to return weren’t staying overnight because of safety concerns.
The Skinners’ are one of those families. Their Abasand home needs new shingles, new siding and windows. Also, smoke damage means the Skinners have to throw out their furniture, food and toys – and deep clean their walls and floors.
“Insurance didn’t really want to give the approval on anything until we got the okay that we could actually go back,” Jennifer Skinner said.
“So now hopefully with today we will get insurance moving and get stuff completed so we can move home. I’m sure I’ll be a couple months before we will get back but at least the end is in sight.”
Phase one of the green zone re-entry comes after more than 80,000 people were forced to flee the northern Alberta region due to a raging wildfire that destroyed around 2,400 structures and damaged another 530.
The city was shut down for nearly a month, with only emergency crews allowed in. Residents of areas not as badly affected were allowed to return in June, but parts of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways remained restricted areas – even for those with undamaged homes – due to high levels of toxins.
Earlier this summer residents of the hardest-hit areas were given a tour and allowed supervised access to their properties in order to collect belongings, but it was the first time they have been allowed back permanently.
Phase two of the re-entry won’t happen until demolition and cleanup is complete. Officials aren’t sure how long that will take.
With files from Sarah Kraus