Fort McMurray evacuees get how-to advice on returning home

Fort McMurray evacuees now have a step-by-step road map towards returning to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives.

Booklet lists all the steps residents should follow when they return four weeks after massive wildfire

The devastated neighbourhood of Beacon Hill in Fort McMurray. Evacuees could return their homes in the community as soon as June 1. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Fort McMurray evacuees now have a step-by-step road map to help them return to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives.

From how to safely enter their homes for the first time to tips on the disposal of rotting food to removing mould, the 31-page guide recently issued by the province and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo breaks down what promises to be an arduous and emotional process. 

"While most of you will be able to return to your homes right away or with a small amount of cleanup or repair, for others, it will take longer," Mayor Melissa Blake says in her preface to the 31-page guide.

"There is a lot of work ahead of us. We must be patient and work together to prioritize what's in the best interests of all those impacted by the wildfires."

The booklet details the steps evacuees need to take once they begin returning to the fire-ravaged community next week.  

It contains a detailed checklist for re-entering homes abandoned since wildfire forced 80,000 residents from the town three weeks ago.

The list includes advice to:

  • Exercise caution when returning home by wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and rubber boots.
  • Wear an N-95 dust mask (disposable face mask to filter dust and other air particulates) while sifting through debris to avoid breathing in smoke and ash
  • Consider arriving with basic necessities to last for up to 14 days, including food, drinking water and prescriptions.
  • Dispose of all perishables in the home.

The guide also advises residents not to expect electricity or potable tap water upon their return. They should also be aware that animals may have taken shelter in their home or garage and to give them room to escape.   

It lists seven information centres that will be set up in the community to help returning residents with money matters, mental health support, insurance information, housing options and cleaning supplies.

There, residents will also find help from aid organizations for debris cleanup, tree removal, roof tarping, fridge and freezer removal and the recovery of belongings from ash.

The guide contains tip sheets for cleaning the abandoned home, preventing mould and disposing of food.

To help with the clean-up, the Red Cross is offering free clean-up kits that include: 5-gallon bucket, wet mop, broom squeegee, sponges, work gloves, masks, safety glasses, flashlights, heavy-duty garbage bags, all-purpose cleaners, among other items.

Last week, Premier Rachel Notley announced that evacuees can return home on June 1, though that schedule is dependent on five conditions.