A giant fireball is seen as a wildfire rips through the forest along Highway 63

Evacuees in Edmonton coping with outbreak of stomach virus

After being forced from their homes by fire, some Fort McMurray evacuees are now having to cope with what health officials believe is an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis.

EDMONTON — After being forced from their homes by fire, some Fort McMurray evacuees are now having to cope with what health officials believe is an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis.

About 40 to 50 people at the Edmonton evacuation centre got sick over the weekend from symptoms consistent with the virus.

Dr. Chris Sikora, senior medical officer of health for Edmonton, says those who reported symptoms included a combination of young and old.

“It’s people presenting with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It tends to be quite transmissible, person-to-person.”

Sikora says to help keep the bug from spreading, officials placed those who had fallen ill in a separate area of the centre, took steps to sanitize washrooms and showers, and increase access to hand sanitizer.

Rob Brekke, the city of Edmonton’s co-ordinator for emergency services, says the preventative measures helped reduce the number of people reporting symptoms between Sunday and Monday.

Brekke also says an estimated 14,750 people have come through the evacuation centre, but only about 600 remain in “group lodging.” The facility is also serving between 5,000 and 6,000 meals a day to those who are using the food service.

In the north, wildfires that levelled neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray slowed their rampage through tinder dry forest in northern Alberta on Sunday, allowing firefighters in the oilpatch city to focus on hotspots as plans were made for Premier Rachel Notley to survey the damage first-hand.

Notley said the fight against the fire has stabilized to the point where she can visit and begin the next phase of the government’s operation to determine what must be done to eventually allow people to return to the city. A mandatory evacuation order led to 80,000 residents fleeing the city last Tuesday.

Notley was scheduled to visit Fort McMurray on Monday. The premier warned residents to brace themselves for the images they will see, reminding them that counselling services are available.

“There will be some dramatic images coming from media over the next couple of days,” she said.

Notley said she will meet up with the region’s mayor, Melissa Blake, to assess the situation.

Notley and her officials, updating reporters Sunday, said crews will begin examining the damage from the blaze as well as check on infrastructure like natural gas lines and the power grid.

Scott Long, with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said saving the city from the wildfire was phase one.

“Now that we’re going into phase two, which is stabilization of the situation … we’re going to start getting some folks on the ground that can start having a look at those damage assessments and getting a better feel for it,” said Long.

Crews were able to keep the flames from critical infrastructure, such as the hospital and water treatment plant.

The last damage assessment estimated 1,600 structures, mostly homes, burned in the south and southwest areas of the city, 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Chad Morrison, Alberta’s senior wildfire manager, said crews received a break from the weather, with cooler than seasonal temperatures Sunday.

Those cooler temperatures were expected to continue for the next few days, giving crews a chance to reinforce defences around the city and put out any lingering hotspots within city limits.

“This is great firefighting weather. We can really get in there and really get a handle on this fire and really get a death grip on it,” said Morrison.

The fire itself spanned 1,600 square kilometres and by Sunday had moved to within 30 kilometres of the Saskatchewan boundary.

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