Temporary housing first step as wildfire-ravaged Fort McMurray recovers

Wed May 11, 2016 10:30am EDT
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By Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton

FORT MCMURRAY/LAC LA BICHE, Alberta (Reuters) - Reconstructing Fort McMurray will be easier than first feared since much of the city’s critical infrastructure remains intact but the once booming oil town will be smaller than before, according to its mayor.

The first priority is getting new temporary housing so companies can resume shuttered oil production.

Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake said the fire is a chance to "right size" the city after the energy slump left it with vacant houses and unemployed workers well before wildfires hit last week.

With 10 percent of the city burned and more than 90,000 residents evacuated, the combination of a glut of prefire homes and quick-build housing are a solution as the government and oil executives try to jump-start rebuilding.

"If I look at what the circumstance gives to us, I think it's an opportunity to right-size the community," Blake told Reuters. "I recognize that this horror is probably going to get some people reconsidering what their futures are, whether it's in the region or not."

The fire may have been the final push that some residents needed to leave the isolated northern city, but major oil producers need it back on its feet quickly to restart some 1 million barrels per day of shuttered production.

The wildfire, which has spread over 229,000 hectares (566,000 acres), is still burning, though favorable weather overnight was seen helping firefighters.

While many companies have work camps at the site of their oil sands projects around Fort McMurray, workers from across Canada and around the world moved into the city with their families when the sector was booming years ago.   Continued...

Burned out homes are pictured in the Abasand neighbourhood of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 9, 2016 after wildfires forced the evacuation of the town. REUTERS/Chris Wattie