Fort McMurray re-entry dependent upon last-minute safety review

The re-entry plan for Fort McMurray residents will be reviewed up to the last minute to ensure it's safe for people to come back, says Mayor Melissa Blake.

Many evacuees worry about returning too soon

The Fort McMurray wildfire, still out of control, is estimated to cover more than 580,663 hectares in Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Phoenix Heli-Flight)

The re-entry plan for Fort McMurray residents will be reviewed up to the last minute to ensure conditions are safe for people to return, says Mayor Melissa Blake.

"Safety is my main concern," she said in a conference call with media on Thursday. "Air quality is the one condition that will matter the most."

Air quality conditions are shifting quickly, Blake said.

Fort McMurray residents are ambivalent about the conditional June 1 return date, Blake said. She's heard "from those who are adamant and want to go home to some who are more reluctant."

5 conditions for re-entry

  • Fire is no longer "an imminent threat" to the city (and air quality is not hazardous)
  • Hospital is open and able to provide basic health services
  • Emergency services are restored
  • All roads are open to traffic and natural gas, electricity fully restored
  • Potable water and food are available and people have access to banks, pharmacies

Two evacuees who spoke to CBC News said they are wary about returning too soon.

Cavelle Hann said her daughter, with whom she shares a home in Fort McMurray, will return to assess damage in June.

But the rest of the family is staying away.

"My grandson is a bad asthmatic. I'm on medications and I'm only able to get them on a monthly basis, which I won't be able to get in Fort Mac," she said. "I won't take him back until we know everything is clear from the go."

Hann said people are being told by officials to bring two weeks of supplies, which is an indication of what it will be like.

'Like camping out in your own house'

"You can't make kids live out of a cooler. It's like camping out in your own house," she said. "I don't think I want that."

Hann said if there are still health and safety concerns come July, they still won't return. But she'd like to get back no later than September, when her grandchildren are due to return to school.

Jeffery Cromwell's home in Timberlea was destroyed in the fire, and he's now looking for other accommodations so he can get back to work.

"Right now we're just trying to plan for a return and find a condo to rent, which I think we may have secured. But there are going to be thousands of people in the same position."

Cromwell also said the list of recommended items to take upon re-entry made him question an early return.

"When they tell you that you have to bring 60 per cent rubbing alcohol, that's a bit of a concern," he said.

Will evacuees be mentally prepared?

Cromwell expects it will be chaos as thousands of people return, and he wonders if evacuees are prepared for the psychological effects.

"The town isn't going to look the same way when you drive in," said Cromwell. "The big one you see on the news about the Super 8 Hotel exploding near the gas station on your way out, that's the first thing people are going to see when they come in town.

"I don't think everyone is going to be prepared to see what they see."

When re-entry does happen, there will be limited accommodations and a limited amount of food, said Bob Couture, director of emergency management for the Regional Emergency Operations Centre.

He's pleading for everyone to stay away if they do not need to be in Fort McMurray.

"If you have no need to travel to Fort McMurray, do not come to Fort McMurray. You will be stopped and turned back."