[I am writing frequently about the fire in Alberta for Canada is my home away from home. The fact that even Africa sent Fire fighters tells me that living in Canada, I have no other choice. In fact it is family and friends in #Uganda (my home country) who keep asking me if Canada is burning to the ground. I thank you all. As mentioned in the past, our family lives on the East Coast and the fire is burning on the West Coast.]
While residents are urged to follow the phased re-entry plan, access to all of Fort McMurray begins Wednesday, officials said.
Zone 1 – Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake Estates – is scheduled for re-entry beginning at 8 a.m. June 1. But residents of other neighbourhoods won’t be turned away, nor prevented from accessing their homes except in Beacon Hill, Waterways and Abasand, deemed uninhabitable for now.
The aim of the phased plan is to ensure resources such as welcome centres aren’t overwhelmed and that essential services are in place, officials said.
“Give us the opportunity to stagger the approach and phase it in,” Bob Couture, director of emergency management with the Regional Emergency Operations Centre, said.
While there won’t be roadblocks preventing access to other safe neighbourhoods, there will be an enhanced RCMP presence.
“The number of police patrols within Fort McMurray will be increased… until everyone is home safe,” Wood Buffalo RCMP Supt. Rob McCloy said.
McCloy said he wasn’t concerned that looting or other criminal activities would take place during the re-entry process.
“If a resident returns home and it appears some kind criminal activity has taken place, call the RCMP complaint line,” McCloy said.
He added the Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment is fully operational.
The municipality said if people return before the recommended time, resources may not be ready in their neighbourhood. For example, ATCO crews turning on gas service by zone. So, if you go back early, the gas may not be on for your house.
In addition, Couture said if everyone comes back at once, “we’re going to overwhelm the system.”
A survey done by Red Cross indicates 75 per cent of residents plan to come back to Fort McMurray. Muncipal officials are expecting roughly 14,000 to return Wednesday.
“Tomorrow morning we expect the first wave of Fort McMurray residents displaced by the wildfire to return to the community,” Alberta Emergency Management Agency’s Scott Long said.
Long asked returning residents to respect the timelines for each zone. He warned that the re-entry is phased to maintain order on the highways leading into the area.
“We anticipate tomorrow will be a very busy day on the highways into Fort McMurray,” Long said. “Please allow plenty of time.”
“Gas up,” he added. “Gas stations are limited …north of Wandering River.”
RCMP will be monitoring traffic on the ground and by air. STARS Air Ambulance will also be on standby.
Those who live in the least-damaged areas of the region will be allowed to return home first. Houses and properties that have been severely damaged will be fenced off.
The dates and communities scheduled for re-entry are as follows:
- Zone 1: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake Estates (June 1)
- Zone 2: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (June 2)
- Zone 3: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (June 3)
- Zone 4(a): Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (Saturday, June 4)
- Zone 4(b): Grayling Terrace, Draper (June 4)
For those requiring transportation back to Fort McMurray, buses will also be shuttling residents back.
Long said officials had the capacity to bus 2,000 people but so far, only 150 had registered for the transportation.
He said Fort McMurray is prepared to handle 100 per cent of residents coming back this week, but expects between 40 and 50 per cent will return – temporarily or permanently.
“At the end of the day, we’re bringing back 85,000 people to the community of Fort McMurray,” Long said, admitting it will be a big operation. “Safety is the overriding factor. We have done everything in terms of mitigation to reduce the risks in terms of transportation. We are doing a phased entry… The biggest risk would be people not following the advice the recommendations of the municipality and the government.”
While residents are encouraged to follow the phased re-entry dates, access to the community opens at 8 a.m. June 1. Officials will restrict access to Zone 4 until Saturday, June 4.
Global News will have crews in Fort McMurray for the re-entry process.
Re-entry criteria met:
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday that the five criteria required for the June 1 re-entry start date to stand had been met.
The conditions were:
- Wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
- Critical infrastructure is repaired to provide basic service;
- Essential services, such as fire, EMS, police and health care, are restored to a basic level;
- Hazardous areas are secure;
- Local government is re-established.
“I am pleased to report today that these conditions have been met, and voluntary phased re-entry will begin June 1 as planned, with the exception of the neighbourhoods of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways, as outlined yesterday,” Notley said.