Some Fort McMurray front-line workers skeptical of June 1 re-entry date
Worried about water quality and health care, worker says he won't bring his children home next week
Emergency experts are raising safety concerns about the timeline for the return of evacuees to Fort McMurray.
Just a week before the scheduled voluntary re-entry, retired firefighter Gareth Norris said firefighters are still putting out hot spots while waist-deep pits of ash smoulder around the city.
- Wildfire contaminants could sully Fort McMurray water supply
- Fort McMurray evacuees get how-to advice on returning home
- Alberta rallies international help for Fort McMurray wildfires
"These areas are still hot and are a potential danger for house fires should the wind pick up and carry this ash into town," said Norris, who worked with the Fort McMurray Fire Department for 17 years and trained some of those currently on the front line.
Norris said he is troubled by a government handbook that tells returning residents to bring two weeks' worth of food, drinking water and an N-95 respirator mask.
"Why would we need that if it was OK to come in and breathe the air?" asked Norris, who left during the mass evacuation but said he is in regular contact with first responders who have expressed concerns.
"To me, that means it's not safe," he said. "If you're telling me to bring everything I need to camp in my home, and a dust mask, and don't let my animals out into the ashes, and definitely not my children — then there's an issue."
He plans to leave his children in Edmonton when he returns next week to check on his home and business.
'It's definitely a threat'
A front-line worker currently in Fort McMurray told CBC News he won't bring his two small children home any time soon.
He's worried about the safety of the water and available health care, as well as hot spots throughout the city.
"If it was like this on the day they were re-entering I would definitely be cautious about it," said the first responder, who agreed to speak with CBC News on condition of anonymity. "It's definitely a threat."
If my kid gets sick, I want them to have the best care possible, not being looked at in a tent.- Fort McMurray front-line worker
He said he empathizes with those who feel the need to return, but as a father, he feels it's not safe.
"You need a fully functioning hospital to be ready, because if my kid gets sick, I want them to have the best care possible, not being looked at in a tent."
But he said he personally feels safe, and he's pleased to see the amount of work being done to get the city ready.
"They are working their butts off to make it safe," he said of workers restoring gas, electricity and water. "They are trying to make it safe by the time you get up here."
Re-entry on track, despite air quality concerns
He said the index does not address potential lethal combinations of chemicals including carcinogens from burnt material during the salvage and overhaul phase.
Norris said there are entire communities in this phase.
He also expressed concern about conflicting information from officials: the re-entry handbook says water can be used for bathing but an alcohol-based hand sanitizer must be used after hand washing.
The province said Tuesday it was still working toward next week's re-entry, and that restoration on the hospital began Sunday.
"We are still on track for a voluntary phased re-entry, beginning June 1," Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said.
"But I remind all Wood Buffalo residents that all services will not be fully operational by then, and there may be people who choose to wait as a result."