Fort McMurray announces re-entry schedule, evacuation lifted on some oilsands camps

A timeline for re-entry to Fort McMurray released Saturday afternoon says residents from the southern areas of the city will be among the first allowed back in.

Residents from the lower townsite and southern areas of the city can return on June 1, if safe to do so

An eerie red haze descended on the Fort McMurray area Monday, as shown in this photo obtained by CBC News. Many workers were scheduled to return to work this week. (Name withheld by request)

Residents from Fort McMurray's lower townsite and areas south of the city will be among the first allowed back in next month in a reentry plan that could begin June 1.

The voluntary, phased re-entry plan will occur by zones to ensure residents have access to necessary services, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said in a media release on Saturday.

Re-entry will occur over at least four days:

  • Zone 1: Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Gregoire Lake Estates (June 1).
  • Zone 2: Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge, Dickinsfield (June 2).
  • Zone 3: Thickwood, Wood Buffalo (June 3).
  • Zone 4(a): Gregoire, Prairie Creek, Saprae Creek Estates (June 3).
  • Zone 4(b): Waterways, Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace, Draper (June 4).

More information about re-entry is listed on the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo website

A map showing the scheduled voluntary re-entry of each area of Fort McMurray, starting June 1. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

Re-entry timeline depends on safety conditions

The fire known as "the beast" now sits at 504,443 hectares, seven times the size of Edmonton. This includes 741 hectares in Saskatchewan. 

Bob Couture, the director of emergency management for Wood Buffalo, calls it "an incredible fire" but adds that, at the moment, it poses no imminent threat to any structure or any operation.

Couture said Wood Buffalo is working with Alberta Health to get all amenities, including the hospital, back in a fully functional state as quickly as possible for the re-entry process. 

"When areas [of the city] are no longer threatened and they are meeting the big five conditions that we have, that [is when] we want operations and activities to go back to normal."

Re-entry will only occur on June 1 if five conditions are met. They include:

  • That the fire is no longer "an imminent threat" to the city (and air quality is not hazardous).
  • That the hospital is open and able to provide basic health services.
  • That fire and police departments are operational, and 911 and ambulance service are restored.
  • That all roads are open to traffic and natural gas and electricity have been fully restored.
  • That supplies of potable water and food are available, and people have access to banks and pharmacies.

In a media release, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said returning residents should expect some disruption and service delays.

A boil-water advisory is expected to remain in place for some time, and those coming back should arrive with food, water and prescription medication to last up to seven days.

Oilsands evacuation order lifted Saturday

A mandatory evacuation order has been lifted from some Fort McMurray-area oilsands camps due to "improved conditions," officials say.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said Saturday morning the evacuation order has been lifted from the following oilsands camps:

  • Millennium.
  • Borealis.
  • Hudson.
  • Noralta.
  • Ruth Lake.
  • Suncor Base Plant.
  • Syncrude Mildred Lake Plant.

Northbound traffic on Highway 63 is still restricted to essential services only.

Evacuation ordered after fire quickly spread

Around 8,000 workers in oilsands camps north of Fort McMurray were forced to leave on Monday after the wildfire spread quickly, at one point travelling at 30 to 40 metres per minute north towards the west edge of Fort McMurray.

Some workers had just arrived back at the camps that day.

The fire destroyed all 665 units at Blacksand Executive Lodge on Tuesday morning. The camp provided temporary housing for workers in nearby oil facilities.

The fire also burned at the edges of nearby Noralta Lodge, but firefighters managed to hold back the blaze. 

Wildfire fighters hoping for rain, cooler weather

Fort McMurray seems to have gotten a taste of the heavy precipitation lingering in Edmonton this long weekend. On Saturday, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said two millimetres of rain fell overnight. 

It was a welcome change from Friday, when Alberta Wildfire Manager Chad Morrison said in an update from the province that despite cooler weather, there had not yet been any significant rainfall on the over 500,000 hectare fire.

Still, the cooler weather was a relief after scorching temperatures and winds helped grow the fire over the past two weeks.

"Cooler, damper temperatures have significantly improved both fire fighting conditions and air quality in the Fort Mac region," said Shane Schreiber, managing director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for Fort McMurray and most surrounding areas but work continues to try to get the city livable again.

Restoration work on the hospital is also scheduled to start Saturday, if the air quality is safe.