Edmonton

Fort McMurray residential recovery starts in some neighbourhoods

Some everyday objects found in the ash of destroyed homes have become symbols for those who lost everything to the Fort McMurray wildfire.

'What we found we’ll cherish' says owner of burned-out home

Some everyday objects found in the ash of destroyed homes have become symbols of life before the fire. (CBC)

Sead Zukanovic looks on as men wearing white protective gear sift through the rubble of what used to be his home.

They were hoping to find the safe that kept his father's ring. 

"We were supposed to take it with us. We moved it right into the middle of the bedroom," said Zukanovic. "That was before the mandatory evacuation."

He's not allowed on site for safety reasons, but the five men in protective gear are trained professionals. They're military veterans and former emergency personnel.

Sead Zukanovic said he appreciates all that Team Rubicon is doing for residents who lost their homes. (CBC)

The men take a ladder into his home's foundation and sift through with rakes. Every now and then, they come back and ask Zukanovic where he left the safe.

"It should be right along the wall, in front of the bed and to the left," said Zukanovic.

The little lion 

The first thing they find buried in the midst of the ash and rubble is a metal lion. Zukovic doesn't exactly remember where it's from.

"I think it was one of the toys or decorations the wife had in the kitchen," he said. "I'm not too sure."

The little lion they initially found was just a decoration. It didn't mean much, but now it's going to mean a lot.- Sead Zukanovic

After a few hours, they retrieve his wife's silverware, which was passed down from her grandmother, but not the safe.

"My little girl got her My Little Pony piggy bank. Found some tools, and a hitch cover on my truck, Something to remember everything by. Everyone is happy."

Before the fire took his home, some of the findings had no significance to him whatsoever. But now they act as a symbol for the fire and his family's life before it.

A member of Team Rubicon sifts through the ash of a burned home. (CBC)

"The little piggy bank for my little girl, that's a big one. The little lion they initially found was just a decoration. It didn't mean much, but now it's going to mean a lot," said Zukanovic.

"It's going to stay in a safe place now."

This home in Fort McMurray's Timberlea neighbourhood was one of the first in the recovery program.

The program will run in a similar way in the restricted areas of Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways, but that won't start until June 8.

'It's worth it'

Team Rubicon is an NGO made up of military veterans. They started shortly after an earthquake struck Haiti, and they assisted in the rebuilding efforts of the country.

In 2015, they assisted in cleanup after a wildfire burned in Washington State.

Bob Obernier, the crew's incident manager, says, from his experience, the expectations of finding much in the burned out homes should be low.

Bob Obernier, a member of Team Rubicon, said the expectations of finding much in the burned out homes should be low. (CBC)

"We set that expectation early with the homeowner that we might not find anything," said Obenier. "We might not find what you are looking for, but we may find something that survives the fire."

He hopes more Canadian veterans join to help in similar disasters. For him, recovering anything he can for people in Fort McMurray is satisfying.

"If we can find one little thing, it's worth it. To put a smile on their face, it's worth it."

'I'm speechless'

That work is appreciated by Zukanovic. As he's about to leave the site of his former home, one of the female team members gives him a hug, and he tears up a little.

"It's phenomenal the work these guys are doing," said Zukanovic. "It's all on their time and I'm speechless."

If we can find one little thing, it's worth it. To put a smile to their face, it's worth it.- Bob Obernier

With his little lion and his daughter's piggy bank in hand, he realizes the safe he had hoped to find doesn't matter to him as much as it did prior to the search.

"At the moment when we got here it meant a lot, but now it means nothing. What we found we'll cherish. Most things in there could be replaced. There was a few things that meant a lot."

@Travismcewancbc 
travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

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