Slave Lake residents learn fire ruined 374 properties
Marlene Gale is one of many residents of Slave Lake, Alta., who received confirmation Thursday that their homes were destroyed by wildfires — with the release of a new map that shows 374 properties destroyed and 52 others damaged.
"My place is gone," said Gale. She had a feeling her house was in the part of Slave Lake that was destroyed by fire, but viewing the map confirmed it for her.
"I keep thinking that towns don't burn. What happened here? Towns don't burn. But mine did. A lot of it is gone."
The town 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton was evacuated Sunday when wind-driven wildfires suddenly turned and blazed through town, destroying more than a third of the homes, along with the town hall, government centre and library. People had little warning and many escaped with just the clothes on their backs.
Since then, many of the 7,000 residents have been living in three evacuation centres in Athabasca, Westlock and Edmonton, unaware of whether their homes had burned down or survived the fire
They are getting their first look at maps of Slave Lake and the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River, where 59 properties were destroyed and 32 damaged.
Ron Gullion learned his house is still standing, but his daughter wasn't so lucky.
Send us your photos, videos and stories of Alberta's wildfires
"It's quiet. There's tears," Gullion said about the mood inside the meeting.
"Some people, I think they're holding back their tears and everything. But everybody's being strong I guess."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will get his own look at the damage Friday when he joins Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach on a tour of Slave Lake.
While firefighters have the fires inside the the town of Slave Lake under control, it may be weeks before residents are allowed to return to the town.
"Part of the problem is we have a lot of smouldering going on underneath the rubble, and with that we actually do have to pick that up and ensure it is extinguished prior to letting anyone come back in the city," said Len MacCharles, incident commander and deputy chief of operations with the Calgary Fire Department.
Earlier in the evacuation centres, patience was starting to run out.
Doug Horner told CBC News that officials should have been able to clear up one key question: was his home one of those destroyed in the fire?
"You know, you go through shock and then frustration and it's turning to anger," he said.
Hector Goudreau, the Alberta minister of municipal affairs, said he understands people want answers, but there are higher priorities.
"We cannot take a lot of time to start counting homes or start identifying properties until we can make sure the rest of the community is safe," Goudreau said.
There are still spot fires inside the town, and nearby wildfires are also a threat, he said, adding that officials are working on restoring water, electricity and other basic services.
The weather is helping more than 1,200 firefighters gain the upper hand against 72 wildfires in northern and central Alberta. The winds have died down, and in some areas, a little bit of rain has fallen.
On Thursday, only 19 fires were classified as out of control, down from 22 on Wednesday.
[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=583 size= large]