The rain forecast for Alberta over the next several days is good news for firefighters and evacuees eager to return to Fort McMurray.
Following Wednesday afternoon’s announcement of a conditional timeline for re-entry by Premier Rachel Notley, the wetter weather is another piece of good news for displaced residents.
As of Thursday morning, the wildfire is covering an area of 505, 645 hectares, more than the total area burnt in Alberta’s entire 2015 wildfire season.
The fire has now crossed the Saskatchewan border and Alberta Wildfires Manager Chad Morrison says provincial crews are working closely with Saskatchewan firefighters as the blaze travels.
The fire has currently burned 700 hectares across the provincial border.
Along with the rain expected this long weekend, cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels in the Fort McMurray area are expected to ease the burden on firefighters and allow them to make marked progress in their continued efforts.
Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee provided some new updates on the fire situation in Fort McMurray and the RMWB.
A five-unit condominium complex in Thickwood was damaged by fire on Wednesday night, the same complex that sustained damage from another fire on May 16th.
The cause of both fires is currently under investigation by local authorities, but Larivee shared that the residences were not connected to gas lines at the time of the latest fire.
A separate investigation into an explosion affecting eight homes in Dickinsfield on May 16th has not yielded any answers.
Healthcare workers evacuated to Edmonton earlier this week are scheduled to return to Fort McMurray on Friday to resume work at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
The restoration of basic healthcare services in the community is one of the conditions laid out by the provincial government to allow residents to begin returning by June 1st.
Retail providers are being allowed into the city this week to inspect their premises and gauge preparedness for reopening.
Air quality remains a significant issue in the RMWB and the government will be providing the necessary safety equipment – particularly respirator masks – to all workers entering the community.
Currently, 90 per cent of electricity service and 75 per cent of gas service has been restored in Fort McMurray and ATCO Gas will provide safety inspections on individual properties by request once residents have returned.
The new Fire Assessment Tool was introduced yesterday and is now fully operational and accessible through the RMWB website.
RMWB and provincial government officials remind residents that viewing the images available through the tool may be emotionally and psychologically taxing.
Minister Larivee encouraged those experiencing difficulties to take advantage of the free mental health supports being provided by the province.
34,066 emergency relief debit cards have been distributed to over 72,000 evacuees, totaling over 73 million dollars in aid.
Evacuees can visit distribution centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Lac La Biche until Friday, May 20th to collect their debit cards, after which they will available at Alberta Works Centres.
More telephone town hall meetings will be happening in the coming days and weeks and all evacuees registered with the Red Cross will be contacted prior to the beginning of each session.
Live streams of those meetings are also available online through the Alberta Emergency website.
Chad Morrison gave additional updates on the fire’s activity this week and what is expected in the next few days.
Wednesday was a successful day for fire crews battling hot spots in and around Fort McMurray, while they also held the fire away from northern camp sites including Syncrude and Suncor.
Noralta Lodge, which was considered at risk on Wednesday, has been secured and there is no immediate threat to any other camps at this time, according to Morrison.
Some hot spots around the Northlands Sawmill were also put out successfully, with no property damage suffered.