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Hotspots, flare-ups still make Fort McMurray area unsafe

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







May 12, 2016.

Hotspots in basements of homes in Fort McMurray, flare ups on Macdonald Island and near Anzac mean the area is not yet safe to return to.

Danielle Larivee, minister of municipal affairs, says it will still be a week and a half before the province offers up a re-entry schedule.

“Your safety is very important to us and your community is not yet safe and until it is, people cannot go home,” she said.

The wind continues to push the wild fire east of the community with it now north around Anzac, and into the forested area along the Clearwater drainage. The fire is 15 km from the Saskatchewan border and south of the Suncor site. No oilsands operations at this point, says Chad Morrison, senior manager with Alberta wildfireprevention, are being threatened.

“With the fire that has burned around the community, much of the vegetation has been consumed (and) that actually will protect it from the fire if it ends up turning around later on. Throughout the summer it should be relatively safe once we have things contained there,” said Morrison, adding some “cleaning up” of the green spaces around and in the community will be necessary to ensure the safety of the residents.

The current damage assessment indicates 2,432 structures lost and 530 damaged, with 25,000 still standing. All home inspections, including those by insurance adjusters, have been done to the outside of the homes, says Scott Long, executive director operations with Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re working on a re-entry planning and restoring critical infrastructure,” said Long. He stressed that the province was now assisting the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in undertaking the work.

Damage inspections are being carried out on residences, the hospital, electrical grid, gas, schools, water treatment plant, and the airport.

The hospital, which took on smoke and water damage, is being restored with emphasis placed on the emergency department, diagnostic imagery and laboratory services, and the heating,ventilation andairconditioning system.

The downtown area has stable power, but that isn’t the case in all the surrounding areas. Twenty per cent below ground and 40 per cent above ground gas infrastructure inspections have been completed. At this stage, the water treatment plant has non potable water. Waste management and garbage are also being looked at by a team of specialists.

“It is still an unsafe environment. There is still a fire threat in certain areas, there’s still downed power lines and there’s still an awful lot more work that has to be done as quickly as possible to get people home safely,” said Long.