Fort McMurray residents were told last week that they might be able to return home starting June 1, if conditions are sufficiently safe.
They might be able to go home, but they won’t be going back to life as it was before the devastating wildfire destroyed more than 2,400 buildings and forced the more than 80,000 residents to evacuate the city. For many residents, it could be some time before life returns to some semblance of normalcy.
Even for the residents whose homes are still standing, there are challenges ahead. They could find themselves dealing with major smoke damage and other potential problems when they return to homes that will have been unattended for close to a month. Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index readings, which are normally measured on a scale of one to 10, showed an astronomical reading of 38 on Tuesday.
Those whose houses are gone will likely be waiting many months before their homes are rebuilt. Rebuilding the parts of the city that were destroyed by the blaze will be a massive and time-consuming undertaking.
Officials in the construction industry recently said the effort will require a co-ordinated approach that will require the assistance of the municipal and provincial governments.
As Jim Rivait, CEO of the Alberta branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, noted, “You can’t just start 2,000 houses all at once, there’s absolutely no way.”
Ben Dutton, CEO of the Casman Group of Companies, a Fort McMurray construction and labour firm, said in a Canadian Press story he wants the two levels of government to help co-ordinate who comes into the community and who does what. That’s good advice. The situation won’t be helped by fly-by-night contractors flooding into the area looking to make a quick buck as was the case in Slave Lake.
It will likely take some time to get all services up and running again in Fort McMurray. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley warned evacuees last Wednesday that the community will only be able to provide basic services initially, and that people returning should bring with them what they need such as medications and groceries.
As the rebuilding effort takes place, it represents an opportunity to provide additional safeguards against future catastrophes. This week, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction identified best practices for the design and construction of homes as Fort McMurray rebuilds to reduce the risk from future natural hazards including wildfire. The guidelines include the use of fire resistant materials as well as designs that don’t feature ventilation openings in attics, soffits, etc.
However, the effectiveness of such measures could be limited in the case of a wildfire such as the one which razed parts of Fort McMurray.
Also last week, AccuWeather released its summer forecast which calls for extended periods of hot, dry weather throughout most of Western Canada, which would increase the risk of wildfires.
Let’s pray no other community faces a disaster like the one from which Fort McMurray will be recovering for a long time to come.