October 26, 2016 12:31 pm
Updated: October 26, 2016 8:28 pm

Fort McMurray wildfire: Alberta names Highway 63 overpass ‘Responders Way’

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley visited Fort McMurray Wednesday for the first time since residents were allowed to return home after the devastating wildfire last spring. Tom Vernon reports.

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During a visit to Fort McMurray Wednesday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced an overpass over Highway 63 would be renamed to honour first responders.

The government is naming the portion of King Street where it crosses the highway “Responders Way.”

“On the first day of re-entry, first responders stood on the bridge and welcomed Albertans home,” Notley said. “People will think of this touching moment every time they cross the bridge or drive under it.

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“Naming the bridge is a fitting way for us to forever remember the efforts of first responders during the fire.”

As residents returned home after the wildfire, firefighters, paramedics, police officers and RCMP stood on top of the bridge, waving to motorists and holding signs. Drivers honked their horns in response to the emotional display of support.

WATCH: The people behind Fort McMurray’s ‘Welcome Bridge’ 

“Words alone cannot express the bravery and dedication of our first responders during that time, nor the gratitude we all feel for their dedication,” Melissa Blake, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said. “We are delighted at the support from the Government of Alberta to ensure a lasting tribute will be in place for generations to come.”

Alberta Transportation will work with the municipality on signage to recognize the name change.

IN PHOTOS: Fort McMurray residents return nearly 1 month after wildfire 

“Our commitment reflects the impact made by the many responders who willingly assisted under extremely challenging circumstances,” Minister of Transportation Brian Mason said. “It is notable as well that Responders Way was the unofficial welcome-home point as residents returned to their city and their homes.”

While in Fort McMurray, the premier also met with with high school students and counsellors at Westwood Community High School.

Notley had coffee with first responders, toured a newly-built home, spoke with owners, and had a roundtable discussion with social-sector organizations.

A spokesman for the municipality said, as of Oct. 26:

  • It has approved over 1,755 demo permits
  • 1,217 demos are certified as complete
  • There are many more lots that are cleaned up and in the queue just waiting for an inspector to come by and officiate the papers to say that demo is complete
  • It has issued 229 rebuild permits, with multiple homes that are fully framed and sided, allowing work to start on the interior
  • Other residents have already dropped their new mobile unit and are just waiting to connect utilities.

Robin Smith said the community lost 1,958 structures in the fire. Therefore, demo permitting is 90 per cent complete.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Residents return to Waterways neighbourhood

Earlier this week, some residents of the Waterways neighbourhood were allowed to start returning to their homes in what is being called Phase 2A of the re-entry.

The remaining standing homes in Abasand and Beacon Hill will be open for re-entry after demolition is completed, which will be part of Phase 2B.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray residents furious as red tape keeps thousands from rebuilding after wildfire

Fort McMurray residents have expressed anger over red tape and the slow pace of insurance payouts.

“People are mad and companies are mad, there have been lawsuits filed. Nobody trusts a word the city says,” said Kevin Lewis, a local demolition company owner who was forced to leave during the fire but came back to find his house still standing.

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

Marc Fortais, recovery team chief of staff for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), which governs the city and local area, said while the frustration of residents is understandable, the work after the fire has been enormous and city officials have had to follow certain rules and processes to make sure the rebuilding effort proceeds properly.

 

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