As the fires themselves abated, municipal workers began to assess the toll. Rather than wholesale destruction, the flames seemed to have taken an almost sentient path. Untouched homes stood next to smoldering foundations. At an auto dealership, rows of brand new vehicles sat untouched beside their gutted counterparts. Recovery of our affected communities is a process that will take years. But just months after disaster struck, progress has been remarkable.
For residents and rescue workers alike, the first days after the fire were difficult to say the least. Initially, not much was known about the status of homes and businesses. What little information the MD had acquired was withheld by higher authorities. Uncertainties arose over returning to jobs, getting kids back to school, filing insurance claims and many other post-disaster considerations. Just witnessing the charred remains of homes, parks and businesses was shocking to all.
"It broke my heart as I drove through the area. It reminded me of a graveyard in a horror movie."
Despite mounting pressure and the occasional voice of dissent, the Planning department within the Emergency Operations Center worked diligently to rebuild broken communities and get residents back home as quickly and safely as possible. A phased re-entry plan was established and persistently followed. Initially, municipal employees, RCMP, Alberta Health Services, and similar groups responsible for a community to operate were allowed to return. Essential service workers began repairing gas, power and water infrastructure. Soon afterward, essential businesses such as gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies were able to follow. And then residents began re-entry into their communities. Some returned to their homes, and others to nothing at all.
Facts & Figures
01 On May 14, 2011, two separate fires burned within the MD. A third fire would begin the next day.
02 May 15, 100 kilometer-per-hour winds stirred up the fires, threatening lives and infrastructure.
03 The Lesser Slave wildfires caused one of the largest displacements of residents in Alberta's history.
04 At the peak of the disaster there were more than 1,500 additional emergency workers in the area.
05 A variety of local and interprovincial emergency personnel, as well as MD staff, Councillors and residents, helped combat the disaster.
06 Alberta had not seen devastation like this since the fire of 1919 that displaced 300 in Lac La Biche.
07 The total economic impact of the Lesser Slave River wildfires could exceed $1 billion.
08 Collectively, the Lesser Slave wildfires consumed almost 22 thousand hectares.
09 In total, almost 750 individuals and families in the area lost their homes.
10 The crisis was designated a level four emergency; the highest possible designation that involves a sustained government-wide response.
Voices from the Front Line