Edmonton

4 years after Fort McMurray wildfire destroyed homes, condo owners finally move back in

Condo owners at Fort McMurray’s Hillview Park complex are finally moving back home, four years after they were burned out in the Horse River wildfire.

'I want to celebrate, but I feel very jaded,' owner says

Robert Coppard sits in his home for the first time since it burned down in 2016. (Submitted by Robert Coppard)

Condo owners at Fort McMurray's Hillview Park complex are finally moving back home, four years after they were burned out in the Horse River wildfire.

The homeowners say they're happy to be home, but the threat of bankruptcy still looms and there are some issues with the homes.

Robert Coppard bought his Hillview Park unit in 2008.

Recently he got the keys to his home and spent a week moving in. 

"I wanted to celebrate, but yet I felt very jaded," Coppard said. "I was thankful for my family and for my friends to help us, but yet I miss my neighbours because so many people didn't make it." 

The build isn't over, he said. There's no fence, lawn or appliances.

After all the special assessments and extra fees he's had to pay for the unit over the last four years, he expected the unit to be "a lot nicer," he said. "But we're home." 

Coppard has had to sink an additional $100,000 into the property for the rebuild in part due to special assessments.

In June, homeowners were hit with a special assessment between $64,000 and $76,000, depending on the unit. 

The original builder, Vancouver-based Viceroy Construction, was removed from the project in 2017. Now Viceroy and the condo board are embroiled in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

Between the assessments and the long rebuild time, many residents have gone bankrupt or been foreclosed on.

Coppard says about 10 of his neighbours and friends will never return to the area.  

"I miss them," he said.

Eric Rosina hasn't been able to move into his home because his appliances are missing. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Down the street, Eric Rosina has the keys to his unit but isn't in his home yet. His property doesn't have a dishwasher, refrigerator or stove. 

He said there's a shortage of appliances because of the pandemic. 

Rosina has put sticky notes around his home, noting the deficiencies. Things like a gap in the carpet on the stairs to the basement, marks on the front door and missing faux brick around the fireplace. 

"It's kind of a mixed feeling," Rosina said. "I know a lot of people that aren't returning." 

Eric Rosina has sticky notes all over the house, noting deficiencies like the gap in his basement stairs carpet. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

He said he's grateful to be among the homeowners that were able to hold onto his property over the last four years. 

"I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in the position I'm in right now, but I'm teetering," he said.

"If things don't start improving … I'll probably be another one to hand in the keys." 

Residents were given a listing of the homeowners needing appliances for their properties. There were only 81 homeowners listed in the 214-unit complex. 

Shelley Paulin moved back home and, in an emotional interview, said she's grateful to be home. 

"I'm definitely going to struggle," she said.

"I look across the street and a next-door neighbour that actually babysat me as a kid, he's not coming back home. He walked away from his place." 

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said it's working with the condo board to do the final inspections of the condos. 

The municipality says the units don't need occupancy permits, as each unit has been inspected between 20 and 30 times. 

"No significant deficiencies or hazards have been identified," a municipal spokesperson said in an email. 

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