Fort McMurray Fire Response Review Due Next Summer

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — An Alberta government review into the response to the Fort McMurray wildfire is expected to be complete by next summer.

May's fierce and unpredictable fire forced nearly 90,000 people from the northeastern Alberta city for a month and destroyed 10 per cent of its structures. After fleeing the fast-moving flames, evacuees stayed in community centres, in hotels and with friends and family until they were allowed to return in phases starting June 1.

The government is looking for a contractor to do an independent review into what went well — and what didn't — during the disaster so that the province can learn from the experience.

"I do expect that there will be something that will make the already strong emergency response system we have even stronger for future disasters,'' Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said in an interview Thursday.

fort mcmurray fire
The devastation from the fires is seen in Fort McMurray, Alberta on June 3, 2016. (Photo: Cole Burston/AFP/Getty)

The review is to look at the kind of support the province provided to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the evacuation of communities and emergency social services for evacuees.

Similar reviews were done after the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire and the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.

Recommendations from that earlier work helped in the Fort McMurray response, said Larivee. For instance, mutual aid agreements were in place that enabled firefighters from across the province to pitch in.

A separate review is being done by the province's Agriculture and Forestry Department into wildfire preparation, readiness and response.

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Crews place signs along restricted areas in the neighbourhood of Timberlea as thousands of evacuees who fled a massive wildfire begin to trickle back to their homes in Fort McMurray on June 2, 2016. (Photo: Topher Seguin/Reuters)

Larivee expects a broad cross-section of people to be consulted.

"We will be talking to the leaders and key emergency management staff with the regional municipality, the affected First Nations communities, our own government staff, staff that worked at the provincial operations centre, non-governmental organizations involved in the response, residents of the impacted communities, as well as working with the federal government, the Red Cross and industry.''

Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake thanked the Alberta government for its "open and responsible'' approach.

"As we continue the road to recovery together, as a community in collaboration with our provincial partners, we are reminded every day of the resiliency and resolve of our first responders who worked tirelessly to save our community and keep our families safe,'' she said in a release.

"We look forward to contributing to this important process that will play a role in making our community even stronger for our children.''

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Fort McMurray Wildfire (May 2016)
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