May 3, 2017 7:00 am
Updated: May 3, 2017 8:20 pm

One year later: This is Fort McMurray rebuilding

WATCH: One year ago today, "The Beast" of a wildfire arrived in Fort McMurray, Alberta. 12 months later, Reid Fiest returns to the community to see how it's marking the day and how much rebuilding progress has already made.


James O’Reilly installed a security camera in his house in case of a break-in, but he never imagined he’d watch his home burn down through that lens.

“As soon as it starts, the video, you can see the smoke hitting the side window,” O’Reilly told Global News.

The video of his “red wall” burning went viral around the world. (Scroll down to see the video.)

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READ MORE: Homeowner watches his Fort McMurray house burn on security cam

In the video, you hear the roar of the fire followed by one of his windows breaking because of the heat.

Moments later, smoke fills the room, and eventually blocks the camera.

O’Reilly and his wife had just fled Fort McMurray when they stopped to watch the video, live.

“We had people, whenever we stopped and talk to people about the fires and they would actually mention to us about this house they had saw on fire,” O’Reilly recalled.

“We’d have to say, ‘that’s our house.’”

Watch below: James O’Reilly watches his Fort McMurray house burn on security cam

Their 1974 bungalow in the community of Abasand burned to the ground, but their new home will be ready this summer.

“The things we loved about this place, we accentuated, where we couldn’t have before.”

Builders work on a new home in the Beacon Hills area after wildfires last year destroyed most of the neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, Alta. Friday, April 21, 2017.


The rebuild is well underway all around Fort McMurray.

Sounds of backhoes digging holes, foundations being poured and hammers are all the soundtrack of the hardest hit communities.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: 1 year later, delayed rebuild underway

Some 650 building permits have already been approved, after over 2,500 individual homes burned down in the 2016 wildfire.

Darrin Eckel of Vis-Star Homes says the pace of construction is only going to pick up.

“We have on our books 30 builds (homes) that we’ve started,” Eckel said.

“We have about six holes in the ground already (this spring).”

However, not everyone is coming back to this community.

Municipal officials estimate 20 per cent haven’t returned after last year’s evacuation.

READ MORE: Feelings of hope, uncertainty one year after Fort McMurray wildfire

Empty lots are for sale throughout Fort McMurray as some are taking their insurance money for their homes and leaving.

But O’Reilly is the opposite. He can’t wait to return.

He and his wife are counting the days until he gets the keys, knowing it could take years until all of his neighbours return.

After wildfires destroyed part of the city last year a welcoming sign sits greeting people as they enter Fort McMurray, Alta. Friday, April 21, 2017.


© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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