Fort McMurray evacuees in N.S. plan to return despite losses

via The Chronicle Herald

Fort McMurray residents with Nova Scotia roots are anxious to get back home, but nervous about whether they will have anything to return to.

Its been nearly a month since Bob McKay fled the Timberlea area for safe ground. At the time he thought he could come home to nothing.

On Friday, he will find out whether or not his worst nightmare has come true.

“The biggest thing I’m anticipating is the devastation,” said MacKay, originally from Halifax. On his way out of the city, he watched as Centennial RV Park Campground turned to ashes. Landmarks like the hotels and Denny’s — a place where he and his daughter used to eat every Sunday — are now gone.

“I’m going out there with more of a pessimistic view that things are going to be bad,” said McKay. “If things do go well, then I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Residents from Timberlea and other areas south of the city will be among the first allowed back starting this Wednesday, as part of the re-entry plan for the community’s 90,000 evacuees.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said in a press release on Saturday that people will be resettled by zones to ensure residents have access to necessary services.

McKay is heading back just to assess the damage, and depending on what’s left, possibly make arrangements to have a company clean his home. He is planning to return with his family toward the end of June to avoid having to boil their drinking water.

“If we have a choice not to deal with that hassle, then we are going to make that choice.”

The municipality expects the boil-water advisory to remain in place for some time, and encourages those who are returning to bring enough food, water and prescription medication to last up to seven days.

Hundreds of homes were lost during the blaze that began early last month.

Former Bridgewater resident Devin Wentzell, daughter Kate and wife Alana drove down a fiery highway as they were evacuated to Anzac, Alberta. (CONTRIBUTED)

Abasand resident Devin Wentzell knows for certain he does not have a home. He watched it burn on his doorbell security camera that captured live footage of its destruction. He may not have a home in the physical sense, but is confident he has the support of an entire community.

“We are 100-per-cent planning on going back,” said Wentzell, originally from Bridgewater. He moved to Fort McMurray nine years ago with his wife, and his daughter was born there.

“It’s funny. Three years ago . . . we planned on getting out of Fort McMurray,” he said. “But now that’s it’s not on our own terms, I don’t know we would even consider leaving.”

According to the phased re-entry plan, Wentzell can move back on June 4. But he was told Monday that this won’t be possible due to the prevalence of toxic ash in the area.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced on Monday that residents living in Beacon Hill, Waterways and Abasand will not be able to return until further notice.

Once Wentzell and his family are cleared to return, he’s not sure what his next step will be. They will likely rent a house while waiting for a rebuild, depending on whether or not there are even any rentals that will be safe to live in.

Regardless of the uncertainty, both Wentzell and MacKay know Fort McMurray can pull through.

“It’s quite a tight knit community and we are one for helping each other out,” MacKay said. “That’s what I’m really feeling confident about.”

Original publish date: May 31, 2016

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