Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Alberta Town is Burning - One Year Later

One year ago, the small Alberta town of Slave Lake, was overcome by a devastating fire.   Twelve months later, although there has been a lot of construction activity, many are still living in temporary trailers, but the town is making progress. 

The town will hold a special ceremony this morning marking the anniversary.  The whole community has been invited to attend.  The Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford will be in attendance.  

Ironically its wildfire season again, conditions have been extremely dry, and the Province of Alberta has imposed a province wide fire ban. 

More than 400 homes were destroyed a year ago.  People were forced to live in temporary shelters or campgrounds.  Athabasca opened a community center to temporarily house people and even the University Alberta made student accommodation available.  The community came together and did what it had to to support its neighbors.

The rebuilding process has started, but of course its slow.  Before anyone could be permitted back into the town, the rubble had to be removed, services restored and of the sites had to be safe. 

Some rebuild homes are close to completion.  There is a new community centere and the town hall is expected to be ready for occupancy by next summer.  It's a slow process, but the town's attitude is positive and the community is determined to get back on its feet.  What seemed to be an impossible task, is a sense of pride by the town administration.  Many people have moved into new homes and over 200 development permits have been issued and is growing weekly.

"It's impressive, all the new houses," says Brian Vance, chief administrative officer for Slave Lake. "Of course, last June the challenge was overwhelming and a lot of experts were saying we wouldn't be able to start until this spring.
"Certainly there was a sense of confusion and hopelessness. People just didn't know where to start. But I think over the year (that) people, in many cases, had a chance to stop dwelling so much on the loss and start more so on the recovery."  Edmonton Journal

The mayor of Slave Lake, Karina Pillay-Kinnee says that the day will be bitter sweet for many residents. 

"I think it's important to acknowledge the day and to recognize how far we've come, and the help we've received, but it is definitely a day of mixed emotions, I'd say."

One can only be proud of the accomplishments of the community.  The human spirit is well and alive.  While much still needs to be done, the people of Slave Lake have come a long way.

Below is my account of last year's fire:

Alberta Town is Burning

 Slave Lake, a community of about 7000 people is dealing with the devastation of wildfires tonight. The town's website, earlier tonight read, “Fire has breached the Town of Slave Lake Boundary along the southern portion, Please move toward large green areas, beaches or large parking lots like Walmart, Canadian Tire, or the Sawridge Mall Parking Lot.”

With 200 firefighters and 100 pieces of equipment on scene, firefighters attempted to set up firebreaks around the town overnight. The fire took up an area of about 1000 heactares. On Saturday a second fire broke out and continued to burn east of town.

At least 10 buildings and several vehicles burned east of town. Premier Ed Stelmach said on Twitter that he was watching the situation closely, while Sustainable Resources and Development Minister Mel Knight spend part of today in Slave Lake.

According to a tweet from CTV Edmonton, main street in Slave Lake is on fire and the town hall is ablaze. CTVs Sean Amato has reported that Slave Lake Hospital has been evacuated but is not on fire.

It goes without saying that people in the town were frightened and there was havoc on local highways as people tried to escape. The Walmart Parking lot was acting as a makeshift refugee camp.

As of 10:45 pm MST Sean Amato of CTV reported that almost the complete SE portion of town has been engulfed by flames. The hospital has been evacuated and the town hall and the mall are engulfed by flames. About 30% of the town has been consumed by flames, including the northern portion of town. People don't believe that this town will be standing by morning.

The Red Cross has pleaded for donations for the people of Slave Lake. Donations can be made 1-800-418-111 or the Red Cross Website www.redcross.ca.

A full evacuation of the town of Slave Lake has been ordered, including media. Those concerned about loved ones can call the Red Cross at 1-780-523-3388.
The Multiplex in Athabasca has set up a blanket drop of centre.

Slave Lake is approximately 250 km (150 miles) north of Edmonton, Alberta.

You can follow the news of the fire on twitter under Trends Canada Slave Lake.

Alberta Sustainable Resources and Development reports that some 1000 fire fighters are on the ground this morning, along with 100 helicopters. Whether or not the town can be rebuild is not known at this time. A spokekesperson for the Alberta government said that they will do everything possible to save what.s possible. 200 additional fire fighters are expected to come from British Columbia and Ontario to assists with the fire fighting. Three Evacuation Centres have been set up in Athabasca, Westlock and Edmonton. No injuries have been reported.
Update as of 6 p.m MST:
The Premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach toured the town of Slave Lake on Monday May 16th. He said he had never seen anything like this in his life. One of the priorities will to restore water, which means that valves have to be turned off to those homes destroyed to ensure only homes intact are supplied with water. Before that the safety of the water supply must be ensured.

Water tankers were able to take to the air again today and the Premier said that we could all sleep tonight. When he toured the area he said that the hospital was intact, as was the Seniors Centre. He also talked to Prime Minister Harper earlier today and assured residents of Slave Lake that they would not be forgotten. Some 10,000 people have been evacuated to nearby towns with major shelters in Athabasca, Westlock and Edmonton. The communities have come together and the Province has send all available resources to help with fighting the fire.

The Premier stated that although emergency responses are exercised, you never think that you will need them.

The Slave Lake fire is one of 36 wildfires in the Province, making this one of the worst fire seasons ever.

Alberta Government Wildfire Update In Slave Lake area

1 comment:

  1. I know how it feels to lose everything and how hard it's to start over again. Even with all the help & kindness you receive, there are things that can't be replaced.
    The fear comes back whenever you smell smoke and in my case heavy rains. It's only been just over a year since I lost everything except my pets. Still there are things I have to replace, but you move on and get things done.
    My heart and prayers goes out to those who are still struggling to get their lives back together.