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‘It’s been a struggle’: Rebuilding Fort McMurray could take up to five years

WATCH: ort McMurray’s recovery committee now says the rebuild of the community could take three to five years. They caution it’s an early estimate, and it could be longer or shorter depending on progress. Reid Fiest has more on the start of the long process of rebuilding.

Fire captain Damian Asher jumped into action when a wildfire engulfed home after home in Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities this past spring.

But while he and his fellow firefighters were battling the devastating blaze, he lost his own home to the flames.

“I built everything myself,” Asher said, surveying where his home once stood. “It took three years to build the house… from the foundation to the roof. I did everything.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: council takes steps to give tax breaks, ease development restrictions for residents

Born and raised in Fort McMurray, he put his heart into every single inch of his 3,700 square-foot house in Saprae Creek before it was reduced to ashes.

But Asher is one of the first in the municipality to start rebuilding. He thinks it will take a year to rebuild his home because he’ll hire contractors to help him out.

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An undated photo of Damian Asher’s Saprae Creek home in Fort McMurray before it was consumed in the wildfire. Damian Asher / Supplied
An undated photo of Damian Asher’s Saprae Creek home in Fort McMurray before it was consumed in the wildfire. Damian Asher / Supplied Damian Asher / Supplied

The basement should be poured in a matter of weeks. After that, his immediate focus is on building a massive garage where he’ll park a trailer for his family during construction.

“We’ll more or less live inside our camper, in a heated environment because it’s going to be too cold for the winter.”

In May, the enemy was the fire: now it’s frost.

More than a hundred residents of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have permits to build, but few will break ground before frigid temperatures settle in.

For many residents, it’ll be a much longer wait. The municipal committee tasked with developing a recovery plan for the community says a total recovery could take three to five years.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Hundreds of undamaged homes not safe to live in

Darrin Eckel was the first to get the required permits to rebuild a home he owned in Wood Buffalo.

Eckel, president of of Vis-Star Homes, has already poured the foundation and is re-building the house as it stood before the fire.

“It’s been a struggle, but it feels great to be part of this and part of the rebuild,” Eckel told Global News.

If the weather cooperates, Eckel hopes to be done the home by mid-December.

The first home to get a permit to be rebuilt in Fort McMurray sits framed. The contractor hopes it will be complete in December.
The first home to get a permit to be rebuilt in Fort McMurray sits framed. The contractor hopes it will be complete in December. Reid Fiest / Global News

When his tenants move back in, he’ll move on to rebuilding other people’s homes.

That’s a bit of a silver lining for Eckel: because of the slump in oil, he hadn’t built a new house in two years.

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The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation forecasts this rebuilding boom could actually eclipse the record number of homes built in Fort McMurray in 2007.