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Fort McMurray marks one year since destructive wildfire

LAUREN KRUGEL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

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A giant fireball is visible as a wildfire rips through the forest by Highway 63, 16 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, Alta on May 7, 2016. Nearly a year after the massive wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray, Alta., a climate scientist says there may be more forest fires in Canada this summer. “If the forecast’s right that it’s a warmer than normal summer, we’ll probably have more fires,” says Mike Flannigan, a meteorologist and professor in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Residents are marking a year since a ferocious wildfire hit Fort McMurray and swept through 10 per cent of its buildings.

A low-key, dawn-to-dusk event that includes yoga, dance, art and meditation is planned at a riverfront park in the northern Alberta city.

The fire started deep in the bush on May 1 of last year and exploded into a ferocious blaze that forced the evacuation of the entire city two days later. It was nicknamed “the beast” because it was so fierce and unpredictable.

Ian Seggie, who operates heavy equipment at an oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray, says the memory is still fresh.

“You hear a helicopter buzzing overhead, or sirens, you immediately perk right up.”

When the evacuation was ordered around suppertime on May 3, Seggie had a pot of soup ready to be heated on his stove.

When he was able to return to his apartment in the Timberlea neighbourhood a month later, everything was as he left it – including his uneaten meal.

“It was alive,” Seggie, 41, recalls.

He was expecting a nasty smell, but instead he was greeted by a strong apple pie aroma from plug-in air fresheners.

Seggie says he and his family are treating the anniversary like any other day.

“I know within our family, it’s going to be business as usual. A lot of people aren’t talking about it … I think a lot of people want to move on and look forward.”

The majority of Fort McMurray was spared, but the flames consumed about 1,600 structures. That amounted to nearly 2,600 dwelling units, which were mostly residential.

The municipality says that as of April 27, 652 rebuild permits have been approved. In early April, almost three dozen families had moved into new homes.

In the hard-hit Beacon Hill, Abasand and Stone Creek neighbourhoods, streets are busy with heavy machinery and houses in various stages of construction have sprouted.

In Waterways, Fort McMurray’s oldest neighbourhood, it’s much quieter because concerns over flood risk and erosion have slowed the rebuilding.

“I think that we are making some really good progress,” Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake said last week.

“But for every day that we have people who are not where they want to be, it feels like it’s not fast enough.”

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