Real test for Fort McMurray re-entry plans may come today

Up to 40,000 evacuees are eligible to return to their homes in Fort McMurray, Alta., today, but officials say they expect only about half that number will actually arrive.

Canadian Red Cross says donations now top $125M in largest fundraising campaign in history

Fog rolled in to Fort McMurray on Thursday morning, creating this eerie scene of some of the destruction in the Timberlea neighbourhood. (CBC)

Up to 40,000 evacuees are eligible to return to their homes in Fort McMurray, Alta., today, but officials say they expect only about half that number will actually arrive.

Those residents live in Zone 2, which includes the Parsons Creek, Stone Creek, Timberlea, Eagle Ridge and Dickensfield communities.

Emergency officials say the first day of the four-day staged re-entry was a success. Some 15,000 evacuees were allowed to return Wednesday, but by day's end, only about 8,000 had made the trip.

On Thursday morning, traffic on the highway leading into the city had doubled from the day before, and officials said they expected Thursday would a bigger test of the phased-in re-entry plan.

There was some good news Thursday for the people in the hardest hit areas of the city. The regional municipality announced that residents in Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways — who had been told they might have to wait until September — will now be given access to their properties on June 10.

As people return to their homes, the Red Cross fundraising campaign to help them continues.

Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, announced Thursday that donations now total more than $125 million. Both the Alberta and the federal governments have committed to match any donations made by May 31.

Sauvé said his organization has committed more than $165 million to help Fort McMurray residents and community organizations.

In a video posted on Twitter, Bob Couture called Wednesday a "great day" as everyone arrived safely and followed the dates and times as asked.

Even the weather seemed to celebrate the initial re-entry Wednesday. The rain that has been so desperately needed over the last four weeks began falling. 

More rain is expected. Environment Canada is calling for a 30 per cent chance Thursday and 60 per cent chance Friday. 

Many of the 90,000 residents forced to leave on May 3 when the wildfire roared into the oilsands capital are expected to return home over the next few days, while others intend to return over the summer.

The wildfire itself remains out of control, covering an estimated nearly 582,000 hectares, though it has seen minimal growth over the last couple of days.



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