'We are making progress': Fort McMurray still rebuilding 3 years after devastating wildfire

Today marks the third anniversary of the wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray in 2016. The community has been working to rebuild ever since the fire burned down about 15 per cent of the community’s structures.

More than 1600 homes still haven't been fully rebuilt

Since the 2016 wildfire 945 homes have been rebuilt in Fort McMurray, but there are still 1600 that haven't been. (David Thurton/ CBC)

May 3rd marks the third anniversary of the wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray in 2016.

The fire was the largest evacuation in the province's history, with more than 80,000 people fleeing their homes. The fire was also the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history. 

The massive wildfire burned down about 15 per cent of the community's structures and Fort McMurray has been rebuilding ever since. 

So far about 37 per cent of the homes have been rebuilt — 945 homes in total. But there are still more than 1600 homes that haven't been, although many rebuilds are ongoing.

"We are making progress," said Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott. "I'm never fully satisfied with where we're at, but we are certainly headed in the right direction."

Between 2015 and 2018 the population dropped 10 per cent, though that number does not specify how many people left the community as a direct result of the fire, Scott said. The region has also been hit hard by a downturn in the oil and gas industry. 

"I want everybody back in their homes and I want everybody back in Fort McMurray," said Scott. "I'm desperate for that."

Mayor Don Scott says the community is making progress. "I'm never fully satisfied with where we're at, but we are certainly headed in the right direction." (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

He said he's taking a few measures to get people back in Fort McMurray, including a moratorium on oilsands camps, to encourage people to move to the community.

"We're working with industry, we're trying to create a system of incentives that will certainly encourage industry to have more people living in this community."

After the wildfire, rebuilding houses is not the only concern for Fort McMurray's mayor. He said mental health support is a main focus.

"I meet young people from time to time that tell me they're still scared about the fire. They still have bad dreams about the fire," said Scott. "I need to make sure that those people are getting the resources that they need."

He's encouraging anyone who needs support to reach out to the Red Cross, or they can go directly to Alberta Health Services.

In 2018, the municipal counselling services had 2,131 sessions with clients, which is slightly down from last year but still up significantly since before the fire. In 2015, there were 1,715 sessions with clients.

The municipality is also taking steps to improve its emergency preparedness.

"We are in much, much better shape," Scott said. 

'People are being hit even harder'

Many people affected by the fire were hit financially. The Wood Buffalo Food Bank is still seeing clients come in as a result of the fire.

Dan Edwards, executive director of the food bank association, said that while insurance money is good "it will only pay for so long."

Many people are paying a mortgage on a house that is no longer there, while also paying for other accommodations.

"People are being hit even harder," said Edwards. 

In March, 140 people accessed the food bank as a result of the fire though Edwards believes the real number is actually much higher, because many people don't say why they're accessing the food bank's services.

"They may have been able to maintain work, but when you have multiple bills, multiple places that you're paying for that gets expensive. And that adds up quickly."