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

Hundreds gathered at Surrey’s Holland Park Friday (June 11) in memory of the Muslim family killed in London, Ont. on Sunday (June 6). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Educating public ‘exhausting,’ says White Rock Muslim Association past president

Asad Syed says public needs to be more vocal in their condemnation

The City of White Rock turns 63 today. (file photo)
City of White Rock 2020 annual report available for review

Report to be discussed at June 28 council meeting

Dooris Raad was last seen in South Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood on June 7. (Surrey RCMP photo)
Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read