Thousands of Fort McMurray residents under evacuation could be allowed back next week

Some Fort McMurray neighbourhoods remain under a mandatory evacuation, but the remaining city remains under an alert. Laura Krause speaks to residents impacted by the out of control fire.

By Laura Krause, Darcy Ropchan and Adam Ziccarelli

More than 6,000 residents of Fort McMurray remain under a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday as an out-of-control wildfire continues to grow, threatening the city.

Four neighborhoods were asked to leave Tuesday, and police can be seen blocking the road and stopping anyone from entering those areas of the city.

Diane Trembley was one of the thousands fleeing Fort McMurray Tuesday in bumper to bumper traffic.

“It’s scary seeing those flames. And the traffic. It just brought back so many memories,” she explained.

Not everyone was asked to leave. Traffic leaving the city Wednesday was very minimal. Outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, the rest of Fort McMurray and surrounding communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo remain under an evacuation alert, as smoke fills the air.

“I think this is normal for me, so just be prepared for whatever the city will tell us and going with it,” one local resident told CityNews.

Another adding, “It was a little alarming, yes we were a little panicked, especially with everyone else panicking. But our stuff is ready to go if it comes to it.”

In a press conference Wednesday morning, the regional fire chief says they don’t want any residents who were mandated to evacuate, returning home until it is safe to do so.

“If you are currently under an evacuation order please prepare to remain evacuated until at least Tuesday, May 21. This does not guarantee you will return on that date but would advise you plan to remain evacuated until then,” said Jody Butz, Regional Fire chief in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

READ MORE: ‘The whole country is not on fire’: Canadian tourism industry struggles as fires rage

Meanwhile, sprinklers are getting set up around Fort McMurray for preventative measures, and helicopters are seen flying overhead with water to drop on top of the blaze.

But for Trembley, she’s not sure this is an experience she can go through again.

“I don’t know if I can live in Fort McMurray again,” she said. “I’m retired so I don’t know. Do I find another place to call home?”

Fort McMurray evacuees arrive in Edmonton

Some evacuees from Fort McMurray are staying at the Claireview Rec Centre in North Edmonton. For many, the memory of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire is fresh in their minds.

“This is the second time for us. We live in Beacon Hill, so flames came over us last time,” explained Betsy Brown, a Fort McMurray evacuee.

Brown is in Edmonton now with her dog and two cats, saying she got out of Fort McMurray early to beat the gridlocked traffic. Talking with family back home, Brown doesn’t know what she will return home to.

“I didn’t lose my house last time. There was two rows of houses in Fort McMurray that didn’t burn — in Beacon Hill — ours was one of them. So I’m hoping for the same,” she explained.

Other residents spent hours longer than usual on the road, on what would normally be a four-and-half-hour journey from Fort McMurray to Edmonton.

“It took us about eight or nine hours. I didn’t really think I was affected last time. I didn’t think I’d be too stressed if it happened again. But when it actually started happening my mind was all over the place,” said Paul Gracie, a Fort McMurray evacuee.

Premier Danielle Smith says her government budgeted $2 billion to fight fires, adding that number could increase.

“So I’m confident where we’re at right now, that the money we’ve set aside for contingency will be sufficient.”

If evacuees like the ones in north Edmonton have to stay away from home for seven days, they can receive a $1,250 payment.

In the meantime, Premier Smith reminded Albertans to try and have at least 72 hours of expenses on hand if they have to flee home.

“In addition to that, we provide a lot of resources in those immediate days, hotel vouchers, food, and all of the additional communication support. It’s when an evacuation lingers longer than a week, that it becomes a financial hardship.”

How to prepare for an evacuation?

Many residents are packing up and leaving their homes for safety. But what should you have packed when an Evacuation Order is in effect?

“Know what the risks are in your community. Know the potential of an emergency response. And from there every house should have an emergency plan,” explained Jason Small, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross.

The Canadian Red Cross is assisting in the efforts of keeping Albertans safe as residents evacuate Fort McMurray. But it’s not just Fort Murrary residents that need to plan.

Disasters and emergencies can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time.

“Be prepared whether you have an emergency kit from the house or the car. It’s definitely something to think about wherever you are,” said Small.

The Red Cross says Albertans’ emergency supplies should be ready at home, take with you camping, or out of town on a road trip.

“First thing is a first aid kit. [You] should have it in the car in your home. Have drinking water whether it’s a collapsible container full of water. Non-perishable food and a can opener that’s not electric,” explained Small.

Some other items people should have on hand include family documents, a crank or self-sufficient radio for information, cash, keys, medication, and any items for your pets.

Red Cross also recommends having the emergency kit by the front door or in the car, because natural disasters like wildfires can be unpredictable.

“You’re the ones who are gonna use the kit for the first few days in a disaster so make sure it has everything you know you need in a situation where you can just grab it and go.”

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