Fort McMurray residents review municipal wildfire response

More than a year after a wildfire devastated Fort McMurray, the municipality is seeking input from residents about the event that has gone down in history as Canada’s largest insured disaster.

The survey will also seek feedback on the programs the municipality offered residents to recover and rebuild

Farid El-Hayouni surveys what is left of his house at 367 Prospect Drive in the Timberlea neighbourhood of Fort McMurray after the May 2016 wildfire. (Brian J. Gavriloff/The Canadian Press)

More than a year after a wildfire devastated Fort McMurray, the municipality is seeking input from residents about the local wildfire response.

Wood Buffalo municipal spokesperson Jordan Redshaw said the municipality's wildfire review, being conducted by auditing firm KPMG, will expand upon the work that was completed by the provincial government's two wildfire reviews.

The municipality's review will examine the success of the staggered re-entry of residents after a month-long mandatory evacuation, Redshaw said.

The review will also seek feedback about the programs the municipality offered residents to recover and rebuild their properties.

Redshaw said about 1,000 people have already responded to the survey. Residents have until June 30 to complete it.

Derryl Livingston, a painter working on a damaged home, spent five minutes answering the survey questions.

Derryl Livingston. (David Thurton/CBC)

He said sufficient supports were available to residents like him when he returned after the wildfire.

"I found that the support was strong. Everybody was helping everybody," Livingston said.

Samantha Gillingham lost her home in the Stone Creek neighbourhood and has since finished rebuilding. 

She said the city didn't offer enough information about building permits after the fire, which could have made the process easier.
Samantha Gillingham. (David Thurton/CBC)

"It was very hard to understand if the information was applying to me or if it was applying to the more disastrous communities," Gillingham said.

Gillingham also questioned why there weren't any survey questions about the whether the evacuation was ordered in time and conducted in an orderly manner.

Gillingham said she sat for hours in traffic as ashes and sparks pelted cars along Highway 63.

Redshaw said the survey does include comment boxes where residents can leave their thoughts about the evacuation or any other topics that weren't specifically asked.

He said feedback from residents will form part of a final report that will be released in late summer.

Third wildfire review

The municipal review will complement the provincial reviews which were conducted by auditing firms MNP and KPMG.

KPMG's provincial review also solicited input from Fort McMurray residents.

Both provincial reports listed a litany of problems with the wildfire response caused by poor communication and co-ordination between wildfire crews with the agriculture and forestry ministry and municipal firefighters.

The communication was so bad one municipal operations chief learned the fire had breached the city on social media, one report said.

A unified command centre wasn't established early enough during the wildfire and there were delays getting heavy equipment close enough to fight the wildfire, according to the reports.

Additionally, the radios used by first responders were not tuned to the same frequency, so some crews could not communicate with each other.

In a June 14 interview, Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake said the municipal review will be equally tough on the local government's response to the disaster.

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