Six months ago, a community of close to 90,000 received the official order to get out. A massive wildfire, later dubbed “The Beast,” was eating its way towards the northern Alberta region of Wood Buffalo.
The entire city of Fort McMurray was told to evacuate and thousands of people ran to escape with the clothes on their back. As flames licked the edges of Highway 63, cars and trucks jammed the only road leading out of the region. People sat anxiously in their vehicles, jammed bumper-to-bumper, hoping to get out alive. Miraculously, they did.
Half-a-year later, many have returned home and progress has been made on rebuilding what was lost.
“Over the past six months, we have seen the incredible strength and resiliency of those impacted by this wildfire,” Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee said. “Significant progress has been made in the region, but as someone who has been through this in my own hometown, I know that recovery takes years, not months.”
Here’s a breakdown of the numbers six months after the wildfire:
- 1,770 demo permits approved
- 1,298 demo inspections completed
- 240 rebuild permits
- since community lost 1,958 structures in the fire, demo permitting is 90 per cent complete
- Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee (WBRC) names an alternate highway providing access to the region “its highest priority mitigation requirement”
- WBRC allocates $5 million to pre-design costs for proposed East Clearwater Highway
- municipality supports province’s FireSmart plan
- King Street overpass renamed “Responders Way”
- Home Builder Expo to be held Nov. 25-27
- Red Cross launches Small Business Support programs:
- 1,044 applications have been started
- 257 callers have been helped
- 88 business owners have been helped in person
The province continues to work with the municipality and the Red Cross and has posted Home Again: Recovery after the Wood Buffalo Wildfire report.
The recovery report outlines events leading up to the evacuation, actions taken during the wildfire and work done to support the long-term recovery of the region around five pillars: people, economy, reconstruction, environment and mitigation.
The report also identifies ways the government can better prepare for future disasters. This includes continuing to work with the federal government on changes to the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements and increased mitigation funding, exploring opportunities to build partnerships with the Canadian Red Cross for closer working relationships following a disaster, and reviewing the province’s recovery policies and programming to ensure Alberta’s emergency response system can be even stronger in the future.
A request for proposals was issued to select an appropriate contractor to conduct an independent review of the emergency response to the Wood Buffalo wildfire.
“Today brings back many memories for the residents of Fort McMurray who were forced to flee their homes on such short notice,” Wildrose Fort McMurray MLAs Brian Jean and Tany Yao said in a news release Thursday.
“Our profound thanks goes to the selfless first responders who went above and beyond the call of duty on May 3, 2016, and in the days, weeks and months afterwards.
“We have come so far in the past six months, but there is much work still to do to rebuild our city and once again become the economic engine of Alberta, and Canada.”
The statement went on to say that the party was focused on a number of issues, including fairness and transparency during the rebuild, allocation of donations and the insurance process.