The Alberta Government and RMWB have tentatively set a phased re-entry plan to begin June 1, with a full community return set for June 15.
Premier Rachel Notley made the announcement flanked by Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA and Opposition Leader Brian Jean, as well as RMWB Mayor Melissa Blake.
Notley stressed that this timeline is dependent on work to restore services being completed, which in turn is contingent on fire and smoke staying away from the community. She noted that while work has been slowed in recent days crews had been ahead of schedule in returning water, gas, and electricity to the city. She added that retailers were also ahead of schedule in cleaning up and restocking their stores to prepare for the re-entry.
The schedule for phased re-entry is as follows:
- June 1: Lower town site, Anzac, Fort McMurray First Nation
- June 2: Thickwood, Timberlea, Stone Creek, Eagle Ridge, Wood Buffalo
- June 3: Gregoire, Saline Creek
- June 4: Abasand, Beacon Hill, Saprae Creek, Waterways
The re-entry is completely voluntary, and those with health issues are advised to stay away for longer due to air quality and health service levels.
The full re-entry date is set for June 15 to coincide with the predicted date that the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre will regain full functionality.
Residents returning in the first four days should note that several services won’t be available at the hospital, and a boil water advisory will be in place until the end of June.
People wishing to get back into the city are urged to check on the status of their home before planning their travel. The RMWB has released a tool that provides high-resolution looks at every property including a fire report. Those whose homes have been destroyed will have transitional housing provided, a plan for which the government will provide details on soon.
Those returning in the early days are also recommended to bring supplies with them, including the list below.
“It’s a long road, but today it got a little shorter,” said Mayor Melissa Blake, who thanked the staff at the RMWB and first responders for their tireless work to protect the region and prepare for re-entry.
Brian Jean delivered an emotional speech, coming to tears at points. The Wildrose Party Leader lost his own home in the wildfire which destroyed over 1,924 buildings in the city.
“Seeing the devastation of the fires rising around our city first-hand just two weeks ago,” he said. “I know and understand that people of Fort McMurray, my citizens, my family, my friends, are going through a lot of anxiety. A lot of grief, anguish, and a lot of other feelings.”
Jean applauded Notley for her handling of the wildfire, saying she and her staff kept him and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao informed of the most up-to-date information. He said he pushed for a re-entry date, and understands the priority of safety.
“Things can be replaced,” he said. “Lives cannot.”
The tentative schedule is contingent on five factors:
- The wildfire, and air quality, must no longer pose an imminent threat to the community
- Critical infrastructure must be restored to basic service levels
- Essential services including police, fire, EMS, health services, water, electricity, and gas must be restored
- Hazardous areas must be secured
- Local government must be re-established
Mayor Melissa Blake commented on the last of those points, saying their meetings in Edmonton are hopefully demonstrating that they are well on the road to re-establishment.
On essential services, Notley said that electricity had been restored to most undamaged areas, and 9-1-1 service has been re-established. However gas restoration has been halted pending an investigation into an explosion in Dickinsfield Monday, and hospital/retail restoration was slowed due to air quality issues.
This morning in Fort McMurray, the air quality index sat at 51 on the AQHI that normally measures on a 1-10 scale.
The process of blocking off hazardous areas has also begun, with 32 km of fencing being provided to the municipality.
As for return to camps and oilsands facilities that were evacuated south of Fort McKay this week, Notley said each company is working on their own safety assessment to determine re-entry plans.
Alberta Wildfire Manager Chad Morrison said that only Black Sands Lodge was destroyed when the fire moved north-east. The fire remains close to Noralta Lodge, but crews have so far been successful in holding the line. The blaze has also burned vegetation bordering Suncor and Syncrude, providing a natural firebreak for the facilities.