On May 3, out-of-control wildfires triggered the evacuation of Fort McMurray, and things will never be the same.
On May 3, out-of-control wildfires triggered the evacuation of Fort McMurray. The 90,000 people who were forced to flee their homes and businesses represented the largest wildfire evacuation in the history of Alberta, Canada. It would take the combined efforts of more than 1,500 firefighters from the entire Alberta region as well as crews from the United States, to bring these fires under control.
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As the residents slowly made their way back to their properties, they weren't sure what to expect. When the ash settles, approximately 2,400 homes and buildings were burnt down to their foundation. A large portion of the remaining population is now hunkering down for a major cleanup effort.
In anticipation of the returning residents, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued a 31-page reentry guide to walk homeowners through the cleanup process.
"While most of you will be able to return to your homes right away or with a small amount of cleanup or repair, for others, it will take longer," Mayor Melissa Blake writes in the guide's preface. "There is a lot of work ahead of us. We must be patient and work together to prioritize what's in the best interests of all those impacted by the wildfires."
Vital tips for reentry include wearing long sleeves and long pants, as well as face masks. If the home is still structurally sound but without power – as many are – then residents are encouraged to come with at least a 14-day supply of water, food and other necessities. Another important first step is to open as many windows and doors as possible to get the air inside a home circulating.
Leaving behind perishables in a home meant many residents returned to a rancid buildup of moldy food. That proved to be an easy fix for homeowners who decided to simply toss out their entire refrigerator. The result was an influx of close to 10,000 refrigerators being dropped off at a local landfill. All told, there has been more than 260,000 tons of waste pouring into landfills from the cleanup efforts.
To Rebuild or Not to Rebuild?
Although cleaning up smoke and water damage is a challenge, eventually the homes that were spared can become habitable again. What about those homes that were completely destroyed? One insurer puts the price tag of the total damage at around $9 billion. However, so far the federal government has committed just $300 million toward the rebuilding efforts so far. That is a huge gap that might prove to be insurmountable for many homeowners and businesses. Many of those destroyed structures will never be rebuilt.
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A fire like this has totally transformed Fort McMurray. On the plus side, support for the community has been pouring in from all across the country. Neighbors are helping neighbors in the cleanup effort. The communal sense of "we're in this together" will certainly go a long way toward bringing Fort McMurray back. This community won't ever be the same, but it will survive.