Slave Lake plans rebuild

Residents of Slave Lake, Alta., have laid out a timetable to rebuild the town, with some construction scheduled to begin within weeks.
All that remains of this Slave Lake home is a set of steps. (Ian Jackson/Canadian Press)

Residents of Slave Lake, Alta., have laid out a timetable to rebuild the town, with some construction scheduled to begin within weeks.

Only weeks after a wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, officials and townspeople have laid out a plan to guide how those buildings will be replaced.

The town has been divided into four zones according to how badly it was damaged.

Slave Lake mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee says construction can begin in the least damaged part within a month.

However, it'll be at least three and perhaps as long as six months before people in the completely devastated parts of town can start rebuilding.

Pillay-Kinnee said mobile homes should be available within a couple weeks for use as temporary housing.

Janet Park, whose home was destroyed in the fire, said it was an awful ordeal to live through. 

"It's terrifying to know your home is gone. We're homeless," she said. "We fled to Edmonton, on the outskirts of Edmonton to my niece's home, not knowing if [our] house is still standing."

It's estimated about half of the community was destroyed when wind-driven wildfires blazed through the town, destroying more than a third of the homes, along with the town hall, government centre and library.

Officials say 374 properties were destroyed and 52 others damaged in the fire. People had little warning and many residents escaped with just the clothes on their backs.

Park, like many Slave Lake residents, plans to rebuild her home — but said it will be some time before the rebuild is complete.

"If things go like they've just told us today, hopefully we can start by the end of this year. It may carry over into next year, who knows."

Resident Martine Carifelle, whose house is still standing and liveable, said life has not returned to normal. Although she's returned to Slave Lake, Carifelle has yet to unpack her trailer.

"I'm just a little bit uneasy," she said. "Just last week the fire ignited again, so if I had to flee I'd be ready to go. So I guess I'm more or less on alert."

Slave Lake school counsellor Susan Giesbrecht said the trauma of the fire and the journey home is still very real for many residents.

"It's just sort of starting to get to them what's happened to them," she said. "They're just sort of floating around and trying to act as normal as they can. It's just not the same for them. It won't be for a while."

With files from The Canadian Press