FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The Alberta government is continuing to roll out support services for evacuees from the massive Fort McMurray wildfire, and it's a lot more than just a cot and a hot meal.
Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee says the province has plans in place to help people fill their medical prescriptions, get children back into school and even assist breast-feeding mothers.
She told a media briefing on Saturday afternoon that community pharmacies across the province can help anyone with identification fill their prescriptions. Those who didn't have time to grab their purse or wallet can get help at evacuation centres.
"We acknowledge as well that traumatic events such as this can have a big impact on your physical and mental health,'' she said, adding Alberta Health Services has positioned both physical and mental health staff at those centres, while breast-feeding moms can get help from the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association.
Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires use the sleeping room at the "Bold Center" in Lac la Biche, Alberta, May 5, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
"We know that many of you and your families may be concerned about missing classes and exams,'' she said. "We have been in contact with all 61 public school boards in the province and we have asked they open their doors to our displaced students.''
Evacuated parents can simply take their children to school on Monday and sign them up, Larivee said.
The fight against the fire that forced the evacuation of 80,000 and has eaten up more than 1,500 square kilometres of northern Alberta forest enters its second week today, and officials say it won't be ending anytime soon.
"Unless we have a significant rain event of 100 millimetres of rain, we expect to be out fighting the fire in the forested area for months to come,'' said Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfires.
"The return won't be in coming days."
"That's not uncommon with such large fires.''
As for the city of Fort McMurray, he said he expected they would get a good handle on the situation "over the next coming month or two.''
There still is no timeline for residents to be allowed back into their homes, but the Alberta government has begun preliminary planning, though it stresses fighting the fire is still the first priority.
Premier Rachel Notley said officials expected the fire to possibly double in size on Saturday and reach the boundary with Saskatchewan to the east.
The remains of a classic Triumph GT6 sit in a residential neighborhood destroyed by a wildfire on May 6, 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)
The good news was that the fire was burning away from communities. Firefighters continued working to protect the downtown and homes in Fort McMurray and held the line for a second straight day, Notley said.
She added the gas supply has been turned off in the city and the power grid has been damaged. Water in the city isn't drinkable and hazardous material will have to be cleaned up to make the community safe.
"The return won't be in coming days,'' said the premier. "Once the immediate fire damage is completed there will be an enormous amount of work to do to make the city safe and habitable.''
RCMP Insp. Kevin Kunetzki said Saturday that during their checks of houses in the city, officers are seeing significant signs of water and smoke damage.
"Once the immediate fire damage is completed there will be an enormous amount of work to do to make the city safe and habitable.''
Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said that may have been one of the costs of protecting the community.
He said firefighters use large, industrial sprinklers to "spray continuous amounts of water on houses to protect them from embers, sparks, etc., from spontaneous combustion, from the heat. So it's quite possible there could be water damage.''
On top of that, a few days ago water bombers were dropping their loads on some of the houses in the highest-risk neighbourhoods.
"So a little bit of water damage in the basement is acceptable at this point,'' Long said.
Non-essential personnel at both Syncrude and Suncor oil facilities in the area have been evacuated as a precaution.