Thursday marked two years since a massive wildfire swept into the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray and many people are still waiting to go home.
The blaze that eventually became known as ‘the beast’ started on May 1, 2016 and reached the city limits two days later. Over 80,000 people were forced to evacuate.
They returned a month later to find over $3.5 billion in damage and 2,500 homes destroyed.
‘Everybody wants to move on:’ Wait continues for many homeowners
Peter Fortna’s house was one of the first to be destroyed by the 2016 wildfire.
He was supposed to be in a new home by Christmas, but told 650 CKOM the build had been delayed.
“Everybody wants to move on. But those of us who were directly affected by the fire, many of us are still waiting,” he said.
Officials in Fort McMurray have estimated some 80 per cent of those who lost their houses still haven’t moved back. They hope to get that number down to 50 per cent over the course of 2018.
‘This is a house we’ve earned:’ New home comes with fight for family
When Erin Schwab evacuated from Fort McMurray in 2016, she left knowing her house was going to be destroyed.
“So by the time we got in the car and backed up, we just could see the backyard had been totally taken,” she said.
But, after a long struggle navigating the insurance process, Schwab said she’ll be marking the two-year anniversary of the wildfire by unpacking boxes in a new home.
“This is a house that we’ve earned through two years of paperwork and pushing and pushing and pushing, you know, to be able to go home.”
Repair work lags alongside new builds
While a lot of people who had homes destroyed in the wildfire are stuck waiting for new houses, another group of people are also facing many of the same challenges as they try to get damaged properties fixed.
Verna Murphy’s house survived the fire, but sustained heavy damage.
“Our house was on fire and then water-bombed. So we had a lot of smoke damage and everything.”
After two years of struggling to get repair work done, Murphy said she might have had an easier time if she was simply looking to replace her entire home.
“I know this is horrible to say, but sometimes it would have been almost better if we had lost it initially.”
Fort McMurray: 2 years later
Listen as 650 CKOM/980 CJME reporter Chris Vandenbreekel catches up with people affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire two years after the disaster that destroyed thousands of homes.
—With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel.