Fort McMur­ray marks one year since ‘The Beast’

Al­berta pre­mier tells Fort McMur­ray prov­ince still has city’s back af­ter fire

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page -

Fort McMur­ray res­i­dents gath­ered in a river­front park for yoga lessons, pan­cakes and vis­its with friends as they marked a year since a fierce wild­fire de­stroyed 10 per cent of the city.

Al­berta Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley re­turned to Fort McMur­ray a year af­ter a fierce wild­fire de­stroyed 10 per cent of the city and told its lead­ers and res­i­dents that the prov­ince still has their backs.

Not­ley said it’s sad to re­mem­ber all that was taken from peo­ple — ev­ery­thing from their homes to their cher­ished be­long­ings.

But she also said Fort McMur­ray res­i­dents have shown their re­siliency and will con­tinue to do so as the re­cov­ery moves ahead.

She said peo­ple al­ways ask about the north­ern Al­berta oil­sands city no mat­ter where she trav­els.

“Peo­ple from the U.S. to China to Ja­pan are in­spired by you and in­spired by the brav­ery, the strength and the re­silience that this com­mu­nity did show and con­tin­ues to show,” she said Wed­nes­day.

“We said we’d be with you on the jour­ney. We know the jour­ney is not over. We are still with you.”

The fire started deep in the bush on May 1, 2016, and ex­ploded into a fe­ro­cious blaze that forced the evac­u­a­tion of the en­tire city two days later. It was dubbed “The Beast” be­cause it was so fierce and un­pre­dictable.

More than 80,000 peo­ple fled as tow­er­ing flames licked at their homes and crack­led along the high­way used by thou­sands to leave the city.

Melissa Blake, mayor of the Wood Buf­falo re­gional mu­nic­i­pal­ity that in­cludes Fort McMur­ray, said the city is bounc­ing back and more and more re­built homes will spring up as the build­ing sea­son ramps up.

But she cau­tioned that full re­cov­ery will take years.

“It’s clear that we’ve made sig­nif­i­cant progress. If you drive through the neigh­bour­hoods that were most im­pacted, you’ll find a buzz of ac­tiv­ity,” Blake said.

“It is en­cour­ag­ing to see. How­ever, th­ese are still the early days of our re­cov­ery. We know that it’s go­ing to be a much longer process than any of us would ever want.”

Ac­tiv­i­ties such as yoga, pan­cakes and vis­its with friends were tak­ing place in a river­front park to mark the one-year an­niver­sary. The low-key event — that also in­cluded dance, art, acupunc­ture and med­i­ta­tion — started at dawn on Wed­nes­day and was to run un­til dusk.

Jes­sica Hether­ing­ton and a friend from work braved the early-morn­ing chill Wed­nes­day to take part in an out­door yoga class.

Hether­ing­ton, 34, said she wanted to start a tough day off on a pos­i­tive note.

“It did what it was sup­posed to do and I think we’re feel­ing more re­laxed now and ready to have this first an­niver­sary of May 3.”

Hether­ing­ton, who works in hu­man re­sources, was preg­nant with her first child dur­ing the fire. Her son Si­las is now eight months old.

“With the wild­fire and hav­ing a baby, it was a year I will ab­so­lutely never for­get. And he will be told all about it —what he ex­pe­ri­enced when he was in mommy’s belly.”

Hether­ing­ton’s home was not among those de­stroyed by the fire, but she said the mem­o­ries are still vivid.

“It hasn’t gone away. It’s still al­most as strong as it was when we came back in June,” she said. “Ev­ery­body is still talk­ing about it. It’s af­fected ev­ery sin­gle one of us in very dif­fer­ent ways. The en­tire year has been very sur­real.”


Res­i­dents leave mes­sages of thanks dur­ing the an­niver­sary of the wild­fires in Fort McMur­ray, Alta., on Wed­nes­day.

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