05/10/2016 08:01 EDT | Updated 05/11/2017 05:12 EDT

Fort McMurray Fire: StatsCan Suspends Census Deadline For Evacuees

About 2,400 buildings, mostly homes, have been lost in the wildfire.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Wildfire evacuees from Fort McMurray will not be expected to complete the 2016 census right now.

Statistics Canada says it's aware of the difficult circumstances and is suspending collection of information from the city's residents indefinitely despite Tuesday`s deadline.

"This is obviously not the time to go and do a census over there," Marc Hamel, director general for Statistics Canada, said in an interview Tuesday with The Canadian Press.

All 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray were ordered out May 3 when a wildfire pushed along by shifting winds overwhelmed several neighbourhoods.

Fort McMurray residents rest at a community centre in Anzac, Alberta. (Photo: Topher Seguin/Reuters)

About 2,400 buildings, mostly homes, were lost. Officials have said it is likely to be two weeks before a schedule is released for evacuees to return to their homes.

"There's no news yet on when people would be reintegrating the municipality and I'm pretty sure that the first priority would not be to complete the census at that time, " said Hamel.

"It's to get life back in order and resume things as normally as you can."

Hamel said the census always starts by counting dwellings and enumerating occupants. He says it might be possible to "take a snapshot" of what Fort McMurray looked like before the fire and use a number of approaches to potentially produce a population count.

The agency has to consider the possibility that census workers won't be able to go back to the city this summer, he said.

"This is obviously not the time to go and do a census over there."

The census is meant to provide a statistical portrait of the country every five years. Information is used in planning schools, public transportation, senior housing and police and fire services.

A population count also is vital because it can influence transfer payments going to a province from the federal government.

Not being able to return to Fort McMurray could mean Statistics Canada won't be able to get details for the long-form census such as education or workforce information.

"For that part, we're not sure yet. This is one of the challenges, for sure," said Hamel.

"Producing a count and having a basic demographic profile is most likely feasible. Producing the more detailed picture is something that we have to keep looking into ... if we're not able to go back in the community."

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