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Staying not possible for those in heavily fire-damaged neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray

Article Origin

Author

By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON

Volume

24

Issue

6

Year

2016

May 30, 2016.

Those
residing in units operated by Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corp. or in
homes still standing in the neighbourhoods of Waterways, Abasand and Beacon
Hill will not be returning to Fort McMurray as originally scheduled.

“UԻ岹
homes in certain neighbourhoods are not immediately safe for re-occupation
(and) for re-habitation at this time,” said Premier Rachel Notley on Monday.

In the three heavily
fire-damaged neighbourhoods, 567 houses and 12 complexes deemed structurally
sound cannot be inhabited due to unsafe health conditions in the immediate
area.

Dr. Karen
Grimsrud, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said testing of soil, air and ash over the weekend confirmed
presence of toxic chemicals. The chemicals are caustic and will cause both skin
irritation and respiratory distress.

“It became
very clear that it is not safe to live in these neighbourhoods with the debris
in place,” said Grimsrud.

That leaves
1,500 to 2,000 more people unable to return home on top of the already
7,500-8,000, who lost their homes in those neighbourhoods due to fire. They
will all have to find long term temporary accommodations.

“We now have a significant new
population that we thought would not be facing the same challenges as those who
have lost their homes,” said RMWB Mayor Melissa Blake.

Those in Waterways, Abasand,
Beacon Hill were scheduled to return on June 4 according to the Fort McMurray
re-entry plan.

Notley said a plain
is being put in place to allow those living in undamaged homes to retrieve
their belongings, accompanied by officials and wearing protective gear.

“I realize
this will be very difficult news to hear for people who were expecting to
return to their homes later this week, but as always safety and health remain
our top priority,” she said.

But those who
lost their homes to the wild fire in those three neighbourhoods will not have
much to retrieve, said Scott Long, executive director, operations, for Alberta
Emergency Management Agency.

“There’s very
little left … but if you have something that’s fire proof you can make
arrangements … you can go on in and access those specific areas that have been
largely destroyed,” he said. Health and safety precautions will be taken and
residents will be accompanied by occupational and health officials.

Residents
will not be returning home for two to three months to allow for the debris to be
removed. The debris has been covered to prevent dust from becoming airborne.
The majority of the debris can be taken to the landfill site, said Long.

As for rental
properties, including Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corp., which
provides affordable renting and homeownership housing, as well as seniors
housing, clean-up of units is required, before tenants can return. Because of
that, rental accommodations will not be available as set out by the re-entry
plan.

Wood Buffalo
Housing and Development Corp. will post on its website when tenants can return
home.

Phased
re-entry to Fort McMurray will get underway June 1 and all other neighbourhoods
are on track for returning as scheduled.

The wild fire
forced the evacuation of close to 88,000 people in the Wood Buffalo region on
May 3. The fire damaged 10 per cent of the structures in Fort McMurray. To
date, the fire, which is still classified as out of control, has consumed just
under 580,000 hectares, including east into Saskatchewan. There are 1,700 firefighters
battling the blaze with the number expected to climb to 2,000 in the next few
days.