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Fort McMurray Road to Recovery: Residents Find Healing During Rebuild

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7

One year after the wildfire and evacuation and many lots where houses once stood remain empty, other homes are well under construction.

As of April 27, 657 development permits have been approved while 31 families have been given the green light to move into their new home.

Many are also taking different approaches on how their homes get rebuilt.

img_1209Steve Menard, along with his stepson Doug, are taking it upon themselves to rebuild their home up in Abasand.

Like many, Menard not only lost his home, but many different mementos and memories. Those are the reasons he took the task of building his first home.

“It was something I felt I had to do in terms of healing, with every wall that went up, with every corner of the new home, there was something there to remind me of the old home. If this was built by somebody else and I’m sitting in here months down the road I think that particular corner or particular wall or particular memory would spark something inside and I would have to deal with it.”

Menard notes this work has given him a chance to fight all the “demons” and move forward from the events of the past spring.

Shortly after re-entry, an abatement team sifted through the ashes of his home. They were able to find some cutlery but nothing of real value for the family. Menard eventually dressed himself up in the proper hazard suit and went looking for certain items.

First, he found the skate blades of his grandson’s first pair of skates. After making his way to the remains of his truck, he was able to find a crystal passed along by his mother.img_1200

“I spent some time in the rain in that truck with my legs crossed in a pile of ashes and I sifted through it and I found it so that was really satisfying, it meant a lot to me.”

Menard notes the goal is to move back in on July 1. This day has been a bad memory for him as he lost his best friend a while back, his dad.

“Every Canada Day since, I really haven’t looked forward to that particular day and it’s tough because there are events, parades, fireworks, there are things for the kids to do and I’m not in a happy place at all. I think it’s important to change that, to make it worth something really to remember, the day I got the family back in the house.”

Menard says he has one message for anyone still in a tough situation one-year since the wildfire and evacuation.

“I’m very satisfied with how far things have come and with what the folks of Fort Mac have overcome and accomplished to this point,” added Menard. “To those who weren’t as lucky as me and had these opportunities, keep your chins up, my hats off to you folks, it’s not easy but perseverance does proceed excellence and just keep going, keep going, we got this.”

Just like Menard, Damian Asher is also rebuilding his home up in Saprae Creek.

It’s been a busy stretch for Asher, continuing his work as a firefighter, releasing his book “Inside the Inferno” all while reconstructing his home.

“I built it the first time myself, spent three years building it and I’ve been building houses for 20 years in Fort McMurray so it’s something I like to do. It’s very peaceful for me, I enjoy the work so it’s kind of a good ease of the mind.”

The idea is to build the new home exactly like the previous one. Asher notes remembering every small detail has made some days quite frustrating.

“We had these two little hallway nooks that were just outside the bedroom door and I was framing them the other day and the wife and I can’t remember what they look like so that’s frustrating, it’s hard to look at the stuff you can’t remember.”

Right now, the framework is being done with the next step being plumbing, electrical, and heating.

While the home is being worked on, Asher and his family have been living in a camper inside a shed on their property.

“It’s kind of like camping but with no room.”

The family will most likely be living in the camper until the home is built. Asher notes he’s hoping to move in before Christmas with the majority of the work done before it starts to snow.

“It will be nothing but a positive to be back in a home and to have a space that’s yours to be able to put your stuff and kind of start some memories all over again.”

Alex McKenzie and his family lost their home in Waterways. One year later, they’re just days away from moving into their newly built home.

Back in October, McKenzie was the first to get a building permit in Waterways.

“It’s still very exciting, at the time there were so many variables and so many unknowns and it was very discouraging but to just being able to come back and say hey I’m going to rebuild and now I am and I’m about to move in.”

He notes his neighbors seemed to gain some hope after seeing his family get their permit. He adds on his street alone, there are as many as twelve rebuilds underway.

“There have been a number of folks that have come to us either through Facebook, social media or directly and say hey you’re the pioneer of this street, we didn’t think we could do it.”

Their home will be the first built on their street. Though most would be upset with the ongoing construction noise, McKenzie says his family is getting excited waiting to welcome their neighbours back home.

“As devastating as that event on May 3 was, it’s not going to put me down, it’s not going to kick me over and leave me there.”

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