Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Fort McMurray-area residents will be allowed to return home on a voluntary, phased basis starting June 1, as long as the five conditions identified for safe re-entry are met.
As long as the five conditions (listed below) are met, Notley said the return should be completed by June 15.
“If conditions change, as they did just this week, the voluntary re-entry may begin later than June 1,” Notley said. “We are making our decisions based on the best advice from the most informed and dedicated officials.”
The re-entry will happen in phases, to allow for efficient traffic flow along Highway 63.
“This re-entry plan is voluntary,” Notley said. “We anticipate that many people will not return as early as June 1 and we will support them in that decision.”
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 five conditions identified by the Alberta government are as follows:
The wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community;
Critical infrastructure is restored;
Essential services are restored;
Hazardous areas are secured;
Local government is re-established.
Natural gas service is scheduled to be up and running by June 1, Notley said, and electricity has already been restored to undamaged homes. All roads are expected to be open and safe by June 1.
However, the hospital will not be running at full capacity by June 1. Still, Notley said it will be equipped to offer primary care, public health, support for home care, some mental health supports, lab services, X-ray and CT imaging, pharmacy and limited types of emergency surgery.
Ground and air ambulance service will be available to transport urgent cases to Edmonton if and when it’s needed, Notley said.
A boil water advisory will be in effect when people return. The province anticipated that advisory would remain in place until nearly the end of June.
Notley said schools in the area will not be conducting formal classes until September and that all students will advance to the next grade.
“Let me be clear that this re-entry plan is voluntary. It’s a matter of allowing those people who wish to return on a voluntary basis to do so in a phased and cautious way,” the premier said.
The announcement comes one day after Notley said the government would have to give the re-entry plan a second look after an explosion in a Fort McMurray neighbourhood Monday night.
On Tuesday afternoon, Notley said gas had successfully been restored to about 60 per cent of the community.
Structural damage assessments were set to be completed Tuesday afternoon. About 89 per cent of structures inspected have been deemed safe to occupy. Ten per cent of structures have been destroyed and about one per cent needed a closer look, Notley explained.
However, restoration work in the community has been hampered in the past few days due to extremely poor air quality. As of 2 p.m. MT Wednesday, the air quality health index was 11 in Fort McMurray. That’s measured on a scale of one to 10.
It’s been more than two weeks since more than 80,000 Fort McMurray-area residents were forced from their homes. Many have spent the past two weeks wondering when they might be able to return home.
As of Wednesday morning, the Fort McMurray wildfire – previously dubbed “the beast” – covered about 423,000 hectares.