Fort McMurray still faces fire threat, officials say

The risk of hot spots flaring up in Fort McMurray and surrounding communities present too great a risk to allow residents to go home, Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee says.

Hot spots still exist around communities and could flare up with the wind

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee explains that flare-ups continue to keep Fort McMurray unsafe. Chad Morrison, wildfire manager, said the fight with the fire is long from over. 0:50

The risk of hot spots flaring up in Fort McMurray and surrounding communities present too great a risk to allow residents to go home, Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee says.

At a news conference Thursday, Larivee said she knows it isn't the news evacuees were hoping for.

"Your safety is very important to us, and your community is not yet safe," she said.

Larivee said hot spots remain in "close proximity" to Fort McMurray and Anzac, and a wind change could easily cause them to flare up.

Two hot spots flared up on Wednesday near the two communities, and wildfire manager Chad Morrison said there are a number of hot spots in the surrounding vegetation. 

Fire Chief Darby Allen said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that he understands how badly people want to get home.

"We're anxious for you to return home," he said. "But there is some work to be done to make sure it's safe for everyone before it can happen. I want to reassure everyone that everything is being done on a 24/7 basis and we are working with our partners on the re-entry plan."

Darby Allen details requirements that need to be met in order for residents of Fort McMurray to return to their homes. 1:01

Allen said there are a number of things residents can do before they return home — register with the Red Cross, contact their insurance company, and apply for financial support.

'This fight is not over'

Canadian Armed Forces members helping with the northern Alberta wildfires prepare to take off from their base near Conklin, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces is no longer required in Fort McMurray, Larivee said.

She praised the military personnel for their help with evacuations, providing supplies and assisting in the transport of firefighters and equipment. 

Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, the commander of Joint Task Force West, said the Forces will remain on "high readiness" as wildfire season continues.

"We are fully aware that this fight is not over and this could be the beginning of a long, hot summer," Eyre said. 

In Fort McMurray, first responders and municipal officials are working around the clock to assess the damage.

"There is no stop here," said Scott Long, of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. "This is happening all the time in safe conditions."

Here's a look at some of the numbers from the Fort McMurray wildfire. These numbers are current as of May 12. (CBC)

Long said 2,432 structures have been lost, 500 have been damaged, and 25,000 are still standing.

Urgent priorities include getting the hospital up and running again, as well as assessing residences to ensure they are safe to enter. Multiple building code inspectors from across the province are working with regional employees to conduct damage assessments.

Priority will be given to local companies and vendors when it comes time to rebuild, Allen said.

Financial assistance continues

It has been more than a week since Fort McMurray in northern Alberta was evacuated due to the wildfire, nicknamed "the beast," and recovery efforts are in full swing. 

On Wednesday, the province began issuing pre-loaded debit cards to evacuees, and the Red Cross announced it would send electronic money transfers to those displaced by the fire. 

Larivee said more than 11,000 households have so far received a combined total of around $12 million in funding. A second debit card distribution centre has been set up at NAIT in Edmonton.

Though that centre did not open until 2 p.m., dozens of people were lined up well before noon.

"We continue to ask that those who are not in desperate need of funds to wait a few days," Larivee said. "No eligible evacuee will miss out on this support."​

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