Hundreds of Fort McMurray flood evacuees now staying in Lac La Biche hotels

The northern Alberta hamlet of Lac La Biche has welcomed approximately 300 evacuees who fled Fort McMurray due to flooding this week.

Hamlet also accommodated evacuees during 2016 wildfire

Hundreds of evacuees who left Fort McMurray due to flooding are temporarily staying in Lac La Biche, the same community that welcomed wildfire evacuees in 2016. (Google maps)

The northern Alberta hamlet of Lac La Biche has welcomed approximately 300 evacuees who fled Fort McMurray due to flooding this week.

Evacuees started arriving on Monday night and are staying in rooms at four hotels and motels. Several campgrounds have also offered RV sites, said Jana Rowe, Lac La Biche County's co-ordinator of tourism and economic development.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is paying for the reduced-rate hotel rooms and the county is now working with local restaurants to prepare packaged meals for evacuees.

The same community opened its doors to thousands of Fort McMurray evacuees during the 2016 wildfire. 

"We understand what they're going through and we know how to host them," Rowe said.

Four years ago, the county converted the Bold Center — a large recreational community hub — into an emergency reception centre for evacuees. 

This time around, the complex remains closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Many Lac La Biche residents are welcoming the new arrivals but others are sharing concerns about the news on social media.

As of Wednesday, no COVID-19 cases had been documented in Lac La Biche County, but Fort McMurray had 16 active cases and five recoveries.

"There's a little bit of fear around COVID-19 and the potential spread, but as far as Alberta Health Services has been telling us, as long as we're taking the necessary precautions, we're doing everything we can to mitigate that risk," Rowe said.

Evacuee wonders how long stay will last

After a three-hour drive, Shelly Dolman-Hanson arrived at a BCMI hotel in Lac La Biche with her husband and 23-year-old son early Tuesday morning.

The family lives in an apartment building near MacDonald Island Park, where Highway 63 crosses the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray.

Before leaving home, they filled bowls of water and food for their elderly cat, Sophie.

Shelly Dolman-Hanson's son, Matthew Dolman, rests in the family's BCMI hotel room in Lac La Biche. (Shelly Dolman-Hanson)

Figuring their stay would be temporary, they brought only clothing with them in the car.

The family figures their apartment is safe, and a local locksmith company is available to feed the cat, but they have no idea when they will be able to return home.

"Nobody has contacted us whatsoever since we've been here," Dolman-Hanson said.

The evacuation was the second recent crisis for the family as all three adults were laid off due to the pandemic. 

Though most of the community is closed and there isn't a lot to do, Dolman-Hanson said she has been enjoying driving around the area and watching children play outside. From a distance, she socializes with other evacuees in her hotel.

Local businesses have offered discounts and residents have been nothing but friendly, she said.

"Nobody is shying away from us."


Madeleine Cummings is a digital associate producer who produces stories for CBC Edmonton's website and its afternoon radio show, Radio Active.