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

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

This bird’s eye view shows the tanker truck fire on Highway 24. Black smoke could be seen from a far distance. (Photo submitted by Kurtis Rainer)
RCMP respond to tanker fire in Little Fort

The Clearwater detachment responded to 37 calls this past week.

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

logo
Evacuation alert issued for residents south of Lytton

The TNRD Emergency Operations Centre in Kamloops says a wildfire in the area poses a threat to structures and residents.

Most Read