Anger flares as wildfire-hit Canadian city struggles to rebuild

Tue Oct 18, 2016 5:54am EDT
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Some five months after the wildfires that devastated Fort McMurray were extinguished, anger over red tape and the slow pace of insurance payouts and permit issuance is flaring in the remote northern Canadian city.

More than 1,900 structures were destroyed by the wildfire last May, which forced the evacuation of about 90,000 residents and shut in more than a million barrels per day of crude output from the area around Canada's oil capital in the province of Alberta.

Around 80,000 people have returned, according to Red Cross estimates, but most of those who came back to find their charred houses gutted by the fire have yet to start rebuilding as city officials and insurance companies struggle to deal with Canada's costliest disaster ever.

Making the situation worse, the region's harsh winter weather is set to raise construction costs and slow progress in rebuilding even further, residents say.

"People are mad and companies are mad, there have been lawsuits filed. Nobody trusts a word the city says," said Kevin Lewis, a local demolition company owner who was forced to leave during the fire but came back to find his house still standing.

While most of the oil sands operations have returned to normal rates, rebuilding efforts for thousands of homes in Fort McMurray, are progressing at a much slower pace. So far just 184 development permits have been issued and only around 30 houses are putting framework in place, according to city officials.

Marc Fortais, recovery team chief of staff for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), which governs the city and local area, said the frustration of resident is understandable.

But he is quick to note that the magnitude of the work after the fire was enormous and city officials had to follow certain rules and processes to make sure the rebuilding effort proceeded properly.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO - A resident looks over the damage in the Timberlea neighbourhood as thousands of evacuees who fled a massive wildfire begin to trickle back to their homes in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Canada June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin/File Photo