Residents of Fort McMurray's hardest-hit neighbourhoods return home
Published Wednesday, August 31, 2016 9:10AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 31, 2016 11:16PM EDT
Four months after a wildfire tore through Fort McMurray, residents from two of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods were finally allowed to return home Wednesday.
But for many, there wasn’t a home to return to -- nearly three out of every four houses in Abasand and Beacon Hill were destroyed by the fire last May.
For other residents like Cal Hurley, their homes are so badly damaged they can’t stay overnight.
“It’s just very frustrating to watch your house dwindling away,” said Hurley.
His home has been deemed safe, but a lot of work needs to be done before his family can move back in.
“The roof’s got to come off, the insulation’s already out, both top floor and main floor -- the floorings got to come out,” he said. “The fridge leaked down to the basement so the ceiling has to come out.”
In Abasand, there are 429 homes still standing and 245 in Beacon Hill. Of those 674 houses in Abasand and Beacon Hill, 439 have been given the greenlight by provincial officials for re-entry. Permits are also now available for residents hoping to rebuild. Evacuees have been allowed to visit their homes over the past month but Wednesday is the first time they are allowed to stay.
The process for re-entry is similar to what happened in June, when residents from areas that weren’t as badly affected were allowed to go home. The first phase of the re-entry plan goes from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. Fort McMurray city councillor for Ward 1, Keith McGrath, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that agencies have been set up in Abasand and Beacon Hill to welcome the inhabitants.
“They’re (agencies) giving people that welcome-home feeling that people enjoyed on June 1,” he said.
Fort McMurray’s mayor, Melissa Blake, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that rebuilding work is still in the early stages. She also asked displaced residents who haven’t been able to return yet to be patient.
“For anyone who’s not here on this blessed day, your day will come,” she said. “We’ll be as enthusiastic for you when you get here too.”
During the past four months, McGrath said that Abasand and Beacon Hill have been undergoing restoration and damage assessments of the homes. He also said they have been testing the soil for any residual contaminants.
The residents of one remaining neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, Waterways, are still waiting to hear when they will be allowed to return. In Waterways, 85 per cent of the houses were destroyed and it is still considered too dangerous for residents. McGrath said the Waterways evacuees will be part of the second re-entry phase.
“We’re still working on phase two,” he said. “That will include Waterways and the rest of the homes in Beacon Hill and Abasand.”
He said the reason the second phase is taking a little longer is because they have to allow for demolition in nearby areas. He said their primary concern is the health and safety of the residents.
One displaced Abasand resident, Erin Orgren, told CTV News Channel from Cranbrook, B.C. that she still has no idea when she will be allowed back home. She said her insurance company is still in the process of getting the scope of work determined for her still-standing home.
“Optimistically, I would like to be home by October,” she said. “But I think realistically, it’s probably going to be closer to November.”
Ogren said that a lot of the insurance companies have said they don’t want to start remediation work or restoration work until the debris is removed. She also said they are waiting for the go-ahead from the municipality and the Chief Medical Officer.
McGrath is more hopeful that the remaining evacuees will be home soon. He suspects that with a lot of hard work and co-operation with the government, they should have everybody back in the standing homes by the end of September. He also said they have already seen some foundations being poured for Fort McMurray’s rebuild.
“We’re all making a great effort towards a positive resolve for everybody involved,” McGrath said.
With files from CTV Edmonton’s Breanna Karstens-Smith in Fort McMurray