RCMP escort evacuees from Fort McMurray, Alberta past wildfires that are still burning out of control Saturday, May 7, 2016. Almost five years after a massive wildfire forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., the northeastern Alberta oilsands hub is in another state of emergency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

RCMP escort evacuees from Fort McMurray, Alberta past wildfires that are still burning out of control Saturday, May 7, 2016. Almost five years after a massive wildfire forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., the northeastern Alberta oilsands hub is in another state of emergency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Fort McMurray in COVID-19 emergency 5 years after wildfire

Mayor Don Scott said the community has been dealt challenge after challenge, but has always bounced back

Almost five years after a massive wildfire forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., the northeastern Alberta oilsands hub is in another state of emergency.

A fire so ferocious it earned the nickname “the beast” spread into the city on May 3, 2016, causing nearly 90,000 people to flee the flames. Residents were out of their homes for at least a month and thousands of buildings were destroyed.

Now, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the city of Fort McMurray, is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases that has strained the local hospital.

Mayor Don Scott said Thursday that the community has been dealt challenge after challenge, but has always bounced back.

“We are absolutely, without a doubt the toughest community I have ever seen,” he told a news conference marking the anniversary of the fire.

“I’ve always been deeply proud to represent this region for a lot of reasons, but one is how tough it is.”

Scott said challenges remain five years later, as insurance claims remain unresolved and the mental health toll lingers.

He said he remembers seeing an ominous plume of smoke on the horizon and then a day later passing by an entire hill on fire.

“I think a lot of people in our community remember what was going on and will probably never forget it for the rest of their lives,” he said. “So I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

Auditing firm KPMG reviewed the municipality’s emergency preparedness and response in 2017 and made 14 recommendations, including that it refresh its emergency management plan annually and enhance training.

Fire Chief Jody Butz said all but one recommendation has been implemented: that forest boundaries be realigned. He said there was a disagreement between the city and province on the matter, but that communication has been improving.

“We’ll always live with that threat of wildfire,” Butz said. “However, over the past five years we’ve significantly reduced the threat through our mitigation efforts and ongoing work that protects lives and property.”

On the pandemic front, Fort McMurray is one of the Alberta hot spots subject to tougher COVID-19 restrictions announced Thursday, such as a ban on indoor sports and fitness.

Premier Jason Kenney said curfews would be imposed in regions where case rates are above 1,000 per 100,000 people and the local government requests it.

Fort McMurray’s active case rate is nearly 1,600 per 100,000.

Scott said he’s grateful the province will soon offer vaccine to those aged 30 and older in the region, which has a young population.

Scott said he would also like to see mobile clinics and shots be given at oilsands sites north of the city. A clinic is already planned at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon mine between May 2 and 4, said company spokeswoman Julie Woo.

With so many shift workers in the community, Scott said it’s important vaccines be made convenient.

“Many of the oilsands sites deliver flu shots and they have the capability to deliver vaccines and we think that would make a huge difference.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Langley’s Danielle Lawrie will play for Canada again. Final roster for the Olympic team was announced Wednesday, May 11. (Black Press Media file photo)
VIDEO: Langley’s Danielle Lawrie to pitch for Canada at the Olympics

Champion thanked her children for allowing ‘mommy to live out a cool dfream’

Aldergrove Community Secondary. (Undated Google maps photo)
23 Langley schools on COVID exposure list after latest alerts

Five independent schools are on Fraser Health’s exposure list

Heavily armed police officers responded to a call on 203rd Street near Fraser Highway. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Update: Police swarm Langley City dollar store after report of man with gun

Weapon turned out to be Airsoft pistol, police said

Insp. Adrian Marsden will be promoted to superintendent and taking over as officer in charge of the Langley RCMP. (RCMP/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
New top cop chosen to head up Langley RCMP

The incoming head has worked with border security and in organized crime investigation

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

Erik Christian Oun, who worked for the Coquitlam school district, has had his teaching licence suspended for half a year. (Pixabay)
Coquitlam teacher suspended after messaging students online, calling them ‘cutie’ and ‘sweetheart’

Erik Oun’s licence has been suspended for half a year, a decision made by the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Most Read