Fort McMurray wildfire anniversary a day of mourning and remembrance, premier says

Last year's devastating Fort McMurray wildfire "brought out the best" in all Albertans, Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday on the disaster's first anniversary.

Premier and mayor hold joint news conference on wildfire anniversary

Rachel Notley speaks to reporters on the one-year anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. (CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley described the first anniversary of the Fort McMurray wildfire on Wednesday as a day of mourning and remembrance for Albertans.

"This is a very difficult day," Notley said during a joint news conference with Melissa Blake, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. "We are here to mourn and remember."

Before she spoke about the magnitude of the loss, Notley acknowledged two teenagers, Emily Ryan and Aaron Hodgson, who died May 4, 2016,  in a head-on highway crash during the mass evacuation.

"We also mourn all that the fire took from people," Notley said. "Their homes, their baby photos and all the belongings that helped anchor so many cherished memories."

The news conference was held in the empty library of Father Beauregard elementary school, in the subdivision of Abasand.

Though the school escaped the wildfire with minor damage, it has been unoccupied since last May because the Catholic school board deemed the area unsafe for students.

The wildfire destroyed many of the homes surrounding the school.

The May 2016 wildfire is considered Canada's costliest insured disaster, racking up $3.6 billion dollars in damage. One of Alberta's worst forest fires, the municipality said it destroyed 2,579 homes, apartments, condos and businesses. Only 31 of the damaged homes or businesses have been rebuilt so far.

'​Brought out the best'

The premier said as people reflect on all that was lost, they should take time to remember how the wildfire "brought out the best" in Albertans.

"In showing us the worst, the Wood Buffalo wildfire brought out the best," Notley said. "The spirit of our province, brave, caring and undefeated, is something to cherish even in the midst of tragedy.

"On this day, to all those who were and remain affected by the fires, we extend our condolences, honour our heroes and recommit ourselves to helping people and families recover."

Blake said that while the physical recovery of Fort McMurray is well underway, the emotional recovery has been more difficult.

Melissa Blake and Rachel Notley walk through a Fort McMurray neighbourhood where homes are being rebuilt. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

"Emotionally, it's never fast enough," Blake said, adding that this week will see a variety of commemorative events as those affected by the fire deal with the one-year anniversary.

"Everyone needs to do their own thing to mark this day," she said.

Notley said revisiting anniversaries can trigger and re-traumatise people.

"I encourage everyone to seek help and support. Whether it's images on the news that send you right back to where you were a year ago, or whether it's those nightmares that are once again coming back or never stopped."

Notley said the provincial government is about two to four weeks away from completing its review of the Fort McMurray fire. The review will look at evacuation procedures, how the fire spread and other factors.

She declined to share details but said the regional municipality will conduct its own review once the province has completed its assessment.

Wednesday's visit was Notley's second tour of Fort McMurray since residents were allowed to return to the city on June 1, 2016.

One year later, a look at how the wildfire changed the northern Alberta city 1:25