EDMONTON – The Alberta government says people from the fire-ravaged city of Fort McMurray could return home starting on June 1 if conditions are deemed to be safe.
“Remember, many hazards remain in Fort McMurray,” Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday.
“We need to address all of them before it is safe for residents to begin to return and we are doing this.”
Notley said the re-entry will be done in stages and will be voluntary.
The conditions include no threat of wildfire or from smoke.
Basic emergency, medical and other services such as water, electricity and natural gas must be available.
She said hazardous areas within the community must also be made secure.
More than 80,000 people fled the city on May 3 due to the wildfire that continues to burn in northeastern Alberta. The fire destroyed more than 2,400 buildings, but firefighters managed to save almost 90 per cent of the city.
Notley warned evacuees that the community will only be able to provide basic services. People returning should bring with them what they need, including medications and groceries.
She said the city will not be suitable for everyone including people with breathing problems, late-term pregnant women and those undergoing cancer treatment.
The premier said a boil water advisory is likely to remain in place in the city until the end of June.
The wildfire continued to burn out of control Wednesday and had grown in size to more than 4,200 square kilometres.
The flames spread toward Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray — the major road in the area — but did not cross it. Notley said she was not aware of any further damage to oilsands industry work camps. One facility was burned on Tuesday.
Wildfire officials were hopeful about a weather forecast that said some rain could fall in the parched area on Thursday and Friday.
“We are all crossing our fingers that that happens,” Notley said.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray in the legislature and lost his home in the fire, said residents have been waiting for this information on when they can go home.
“We have seen the photos of our neighbourhoods in ashes and I hope today will help all of us take a step back towards normalcy and recognize that we can move forward to a better life and to have our beautiful city back again,” he said.
The premier was careful to qualify the June 1 re-entry date, calling it a preliminary timeline.
When pressed on whether the date will stand she said it will all depend on the information her government is receiving from the experts who are fighting and tracking the blaze.
She said the area that has burned should actually protect the city from the blaze.
But at this point her officials don’t know for sure.
“So on their best guess they think we’re at a point at being able to put out these dates and be reasonably close to them so that the certainty that people also need in order to help them deal with the tragedy they’ve been through can also be provided,” she said.
“It’s a judgement call, but we are making our decisions based on the best advice of the most informed and dedicated officials that I think are probably anywhere in the country.”