Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s media briefing on the complete evacuation of Fort McMurray and oilfield work camps to the north of the city Sunday was somber.
The premier had to compose herself while speaking about Mother’s Day and the two evacuees who died in a traffic accident while fleeing the area.
15-year-old Emily Ryan and her stepmother’s nephew, Aaron Hodgson, died in the accident after the fire drove around 80,000 people from the city.
Notley said she was planning on travelling to Fort McMurray on Monday to survey the damage from the wildfire with the city’s mayor Melissa Blake.
The premier stated that firefighting efforts have stabilized Fort McMurray to the point where she can visit and begin the government’s next phase of determining the extent of the damage.
“It’s too early to speculate on the extent and the nature of the damage,” Notley said. “You can walk by a building – it looks like it’s still standing – then you go and you discover that there has been damage to it.”
Notley also said about 250 gas and electrical workers from ATCO were currently in Fort McMurray working to restore the grid where power had been lost.
Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management said the provincial response to the wildfire has now moved into “phase two.”
At a press conference early Sunday afternoon, Long said the first phase of responding to the emergency involved the preservation of life and protection of infrastructure and that while those efforts continue, a more advanced damage assessment will now begin and work will accelerate to make plans for re-entry although a timeline is still not available for when residents can return.
“Based on lessons learned that we have learned from Slave Lake and from High River, we have teams with an immense amount of experience in doing this and those folks are re-enforcing the Fort McMurray re-entry planning so that we can do it as smoothly and as effectively and as efficiently as possible and get people back to their homes quickly,” Long said.
“If we don’t have a hospital and we don’t have a water treatment plan, that’s going to be a whole lot longer. We have a hospital, we have a water treatment plant, now we just need to get in there and see damage, determine how long and then develop that timeline.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also addressed the media Sunday afternoon at a separate press conference in Edmonton, marking the first time a federal cabinet has been in Alberta to speak on the disaster.
Goodale said emergency funding will come through a cost-sharing formula with the province and that the “government of Canada will be there every step of the way.”
A provincial state of emergency remained in effect in the Fort McMurray area Sunday as officials said the disastrous wildfire was not only still burning out of control, but had been held at 161,000 hectares. Earlier, officials had said they were prepared for the possibility of the fire growing to over 200,000 hectares in size by Saturday night. For reference, the city of Edmonton is about 68,000 hectares in size.
On Sunday, Alberta wildfire manager Chad Morrison said cooler weather, which is expected to last the next few days, helped keep the fire from growing to 200,000 hectares. While officials with the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the area received some precipitation Sunday, it was brief. Officials have said on multiple occasions that prolonged or heavy precipitation will be needed to really help slow the enormous blaze or else it could take months to be extinguished.
Watch below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gives an update on the progress of the Fort McMurray wild fire stating that it’s heading east closer to the Saskatchewan border.
He also said an ongoing investigation continued into what actually sparked the fire.
The premier said she would be meeting with leaders in Alberta’s energy sector on Tuesday to discuss the impact of the wildfire on the oil industry.
Notley said on Sunday that all evacuees who had been staying in work camps north of Fort McMurray had now been moved south of the devastated community.
Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee later said only a few essential staff remained on site at the work camps as of Sunday afternoon.
Saturday marked the second day in a row in which evacuees who had been staying at work camps north of Fort McMurray began making their way south through the community to safety.
RCMP were leading 50 vehicles at a time through Fort McMurray. While many of the estimated 25,000 people once taking refuge in the work camps left via highway convoy, thousands were also airlifted out.
On Sunday, Notley said 300 people had been evacuated from Fort MacKay because of smoke. The community was put under a voluntary evacuation order Saturday. Environment Canada has issued an air quality warning for the area.
In and around Fort McMurray, more than 500 firefighters continue to battle the blaze with help from 15 helicopters, 14 air tankers and 88 other pieces of equipment.
Morrison said firefighters from Ontario arrived Saturday to help battle the blaze and that 66 more were expected to arrive from Quebec and New Brunswick later this week.
Between 300 and 350 police officers were inside Fort McMurray Saturday, going door to door to make sure nobody remained in the community. Officers said they had gone through about 30 per cent of the community by Saturday morning and added they are not forcing their way into homes unless they hear a call for help.
A family of five and one other person were found Friday and taken to safety.
Goodale said the door to door checks were expected to wrap up Sunday evening.
As of Saturday morning, there was still no timeline for when residents would be able to return to Fort McMurray. Notley said the community was still very dangerous and only first responders were allowed in the city.
Notley said the gas has been turned off and the power grid has been damaged. She said some areas of Fort McMurray do not have power and the water is not drinkable.
On Friday, the Alberta government approved emergency financing for the approximately 80,000 people evacuated from Fort McMurray this week. Each adult will receive $1,250 and each dependent will get $500. The funds will be made available in the coming days and on Friday, the premier said it will cost the province about $100 million.
Details on when the assistance will be available and how to get access to it will be released by the government on Wednesday, May 11.
With files from Phil Heindenreich, Caley Ramsay, and Slav Kornik of Global News.