Re-entry for some Fort McMurray evacuees delayed until September

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says concerns about environmental contamination will delay the return of up to 2,000 evacuees expecting to move back to their homes in fire-damaged Fort McMurray until as late as September.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says concerns about environmental contamination will delay the return of up to 2,000 evacuees expecting to move back to their homes in fire-damaged Fort McMurray until as late as September.

Re-entering the scarred community is to proceed this week for most residents as previously announced. But Notley said Monday that more than 500 homes and about a dozen apartment complexes that escaped a wildfire earlier this month in three otherwise heavily damaged neighbourhoods are not safe to be lived in yet.

She said that conclusion was reached with health experts following tests that found ash tainted with toxic heavy metals and carcinogens such dioxins and furans.

“It was determined that the volume of what we’ve just described was sufficient that those intact homes were not safe until that kind of waste was removed,” Notley said. “It means that people who live in those neighbourhoods should not plan to return permanently on June 4 as originally planned.”

The U.S. Geological Survey found ash left after California’s home-destroying wildfires in 2007 and 2008 was far more alkaline than ash from wood fires.

Mixed with water, the ash was almost as caustic as oven cleaner.

It was also significantly contaminated with metals, some of them toxic. Arsenic, lead, antimony, copper, zinc and chromium were all found at levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

As well, ash particles from urban-wildfire blazes tended to be smaller and more easily inhaled.

Both arsenic and hexavalent chromium — a form of the metal known to cause lung cancer — were more readily taken up by lung fluids than they were in water.

Arrangements will be made for people from the affected homes in Fort McMurray to make a one-time visit.

“We believe it will be possible to arrange for these residents to temporarily return to inspect their residences and retrieve their belongings,” Notley said.

Crews will attempt to stabilize the ash and remaining debris by spraying it with a non-toxic substance which Notley compared to papier mache. Called a tackifier, the product is made from wood pulp and recycled paper.

Meanwhile, services are slowly being restored in preparation for residents who will return on schedule. Gas stations and grocery stores are being restocked.

“They’re working very quickly with those key retail providers,” Notley said. “We are certainly encouraging people to bring up as much of their own stuff as they can.”

The Red Cross also announced Monday that it is releasing another $20 million from donations to everyone able to move back.

Returnees are to receive $300 for the first person in a household and $50 for each additional person. The electronic transfer of cash is intended to help with immediate expenses such as buying cleaning supplies and replacing rotten food.

More than $100 million has been donated to the Fort McMurray relief effort. Tuesday is the last day for individual donations to be matched by the federal and Alberta governments.

A provincial state of emergency that has been in effect in the Wood Buffalo municipality since shortly after the fire whipped through the city is to be extended until the end of June to co-ordinate cleanup and return of residents more easily, Notley said.

The fire is still burning and covers about 5,800 square kilometres, although it is not expected to grow significantly in coming days due to cooler and wetter weather conditions. About 300 South African firefighters have arrived to help, which brings the number battling the blaze to 2,000.

Just Posted

Former Red Deer teacher gets six-year prison sentence for child sexual exploitation

Norman Joseph Howes pleads guilty to three charges against 11-year-old

Central Alberta ranchers reeling from China’s beef ban

Disappointed beef is caught up in latest trade dispute

Red Deer Public School District doesn’t expect funding ‘doom and gloom’

Red Deer Public School administrators aren’t panicking over possible education budget cuts… Continue reading

Busts lead to four arrests, $130,000 of drugs and cash seized

Community is safer without drugs and guns on the street: Police inspector

Goalie Roberto Luongo retires after 19 NHL seasons

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida goalie Roberto Luongo has decided to retire after… Continue reading

Europe, you’re up! Yankees top Blue Jays 8-7, head to London

Yankees 8 Blues Jays 7 NEW YORK — Buckingham Palace and Westminster… Continue reading

Sylvan Lake spending $2 million to upgrade busy intersection

The intersection at Erickson Drive and Hwy 20 will see improvements this construction season

Longtime volunteer recognized at Mayor’s Garden Party

Sue Barthel was the honorary senior recognized at the annual Mayor’s Garden… Continue reading

Maskwacis youth found dead on reserve

The remains of 16 year old Houston Omeasoo found

Duncan announces $30 million to promote safety and inclusiveness in sport

TORONTO — The federal government is investing $30 million over five years… Continue reading

Raptors president Ujiri addresses rare off-court issues during NBA title run

TORONTO — Even a championship can come with hiccups. Toronto Raptors president… Continue reading

Mouse that roared: Disney characters win local union shakeup

ORLANDO, Fla. — The mouse that roared was heard. Months after workers… Continue reading

Most Read