Fort McMurray residents pore over new app to see how fire damaged their town

Fort McMurray residents are getting a view from space of their home neighbourhoods through a new app from the Alberta government. It's providing a way for some people to check on the status of their homes.

The app provided by Alberta government uses images from French satellite

Evacuees Rifat and Kozeta Dyrmishi found out their home remains standing after looking at satellite images from the app on Sunday. (Sylvain Bascaron/CBC)

An app from the Alberta government showing satellite images of Fort McMurray is giving evacuees of the wildfire a closer look at their homes from afar.

​Rifat and Kozeta Dyrmishi, who are staying at the Northlands evacuation centre in Edmonton, are breathing a sigh of relief after searching for their home on the app for the first time.

"It's our home, our house, we have all our belongings and memories and everything," Rifat said. 

"My house is safe, it's great."

Seeing their home on the app offers a peace of mind they said you can't get from reports saying certain neighbourhoods might be untouched, he added.

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Beacon Hill

May 2011 vs. May 2016: A look at Beacon Hill North, one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods — note the difference between the homes with and without roofs. Below that, Beacon Hill South looks as if the entire neighbourhood has been damaged, and a lot of it extensively.

(Image Credits: Before/Google Earth, After/Alberta Government)

Released this weekend, the app is meant to help Fort McMurray evacuees see if the wildfire known as "the beast" took their home.

The government hopes that when the higher-resolution images become available, it will help homeowners with insurance claims.​

At the beginning of May, the wildfire forced over 90,000 people from their homes.

The fire tore through several neighbourhoods — primarily Beacon Hill and Abasand — and also hit others sporadically, leaving evacuees wondering about the state of their homes.

The app shows images taken from the satellite Pléaides-1A. The satellite was launched in 2011 by CNES, France's space agency, along with the Pléaides-1B. 

The satellites cover a total area of 1 million square kilometres daily and orbit the entire Earth every 26 days.

Anyone wanting to view the satellite images must first click on a link, acknowledging that they have read and understand the terms of use agreement on the government website.

The government says it will release higher resolution images as they become available. 

"Having been through a devastating fire and evacuation myself, I know first-hand how stressful it is to wait for updates on which homes have been lost," Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said in a statement.

Abasand Heights

This neighbourhood was hit particularly hard by the fire. Note the roofs that remain intact as well as Father Beauregard School. Below that, an aerial look at the Wildwood Estates in the same neighbourhood.

"We are committed to providing information to residents as soon as we can, and these images will help us begin to answer the questions people have about the state of their homes and community."

Larivee had to flee her home in Slave Lake during the wildfires five years ago.

She points out, while the app will help with insurance claims, it's important to realize that "structures that appear to be standing should not be considered undamaged."

Larivee warned that viewing the satellite images may be traumatic.

Anyone affected by the images can contact Alberta's Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.

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With files from Haydn Watters and the Canadian Press