Wildfire rebuild sparks business boom in Fort McMurray

Home building and cleaning businesses say they are preparing for increase in demand for their services. They don't know how they will keep up.

Businesses might be cashing in but devastated homeowners are feeling overwhelmed by the process

Fort McMurray's businesses say they expect demand for their services to increase as the post-wildfire rebuild begins. (David Thurton/CBC)

Businesses expect Fort McMurray to undergo a mini-building boom as homeowners rebuild in the aftermath of May's wildfire.

"There was no demand for homes here in the last two years, and we have gone through a recession here in Fort McMurray. I believe the demand will increase," Dharam Singh said, a partner at Dover Construction Ltd.

Singh was one of 160 booths at the YMM Homeshow in Fort McMurray on Saturday. The trade show targeted owners whose homes were damaged or destroyed in May's wildfire.

Singh hesitates to call the increase demand for homes a "boom." Instead he likes to think of it as an opportunity for builders like him to "supply and build homes to the people that need."

Singh said much of Fort McMurray's skilled labour left when the economy tanked and he's now recruiting carpenters, electricians and roofers. He expects there will be competition amongst builders for skilled labour.

"Getting everything organized in the city is going to be a problem. Getting a supplier to supply all the materials in the city will be a problem," Singh said.

New businesses emerge

The wildfire gutted Devin Wentzell's Abasand home. The former safety officer had been unemployed since November and instead of sitting around and "feeling down" he decided to start a cleaning company that's targeting fellow residents who were in a similar situation.

Devin Wentzell lost his job last year and his home in May's wildfire. He used both experiences as an opportunity to start his own business. (David Thurton/CBC)

"Business is good we're actually able to make a enough money to donate back to the community," Wentzell said.

His company participated in a recent fundraiser that brought in $10,000 for a local charity.

Homeowners overwhelmed

Almost three months after the wildfire homeowners at the trade show say it's not easy rebuilding even if you have strong insurance coverage.

"Ours is a little more complicated," said Kerry McDermid who was at the homeshow looking for a reputable local builder.

McDermid is rebuilding his 11,000-square-foot "patio-home" that was part of a triplex in Abasand. Since all the three units were connected, all the homeowners must agree on one builder.

Kerry McDermid is rebuilding his Abasand home and is finding the process overwhelming for him. (David Thurton/CBC)

"It's really horrible because I have never experienced something like this before. That was the first house I have ever owned," McDermid said.

Thankfully, McDermid said all his neighbours like each other and are working together. But he feels the pressure to find a builder soon because contractors are telling him they are only taking a limited number rebuilds.

"You got to get signed now. That guarantees your house gets built next year. Otherwise you're a floater," McDermid said.

May's wildfire destroyed or damaged 2,793 homes or apartments, and a total of 3,200 units cannot be re-occupied, according to July estimates from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Organizers of the YMM Homeshow estimate that over 1,400 people showed up on Saturday.