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The Alberta government says people from the fire-ravaged city of Fort McMurray could start going home starting June 1 if conditions are safe, but warned there will only be basic services and a partially open hospital.
“Remember, many hazards remain in Fort McMurray,” Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday.
“We need to address all of them before it is safe for residents to begin to return.”
Notley said the re-entry will be done in stages over two weeks. The city will not be suitable for everyone, including people with breathing problems, late-term pregnant women and those undergoing cancer treatment.
“We anticipate that many people will not return as early as June 1,” she said.
Five safety conditions must be met, including that wildfire is no longer an imminent threat and the air is safe to breathe. Basic emergency, medical and other services such as electricity and natural gas must also be available.
Notley warned that a boil-water advisory is likely to remain in place until the end of June and that people returning should bring with them what they need, including medications and groceries.
The hospital is scheduled to be fully operational by June 15.
In the meantime, the province announced a new, interactive online map application that provides detailed new images of fire-damaged areas. It includes high-resolution images from multiple angles to give residents a clearer idea of which homes have been lost and damaged.
However, Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larviee warned evacuees to approach viewing the images with caution.
“I’ve seen the devastating effects a fire has on a community and I know how difficult it can be to view those images,” she said. “I urge affected residents to seek out the emotional and mental-health supports they need.”
She said the imagery may provide enough detail to assist property owners with insurance claims, eligibility funding and other recovery actions.
More than 80,000 people fled the city on May 3 due to the wildfire that continues to burn in northeastern Alberta. The fire destroyed more than 2,400 buildings, but firefighters managed to save almost 90 per cent of the city.
The wildfire continued to burn out of control Wednesday and had grown in size to more than 4,200 square kilometres.
The flames spread toward Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray the major road in the area but did not cross it. Notley said she was not aware of any further damage to oilsands industry work camps.
One facility was destroyed Tuesday after 8,000 workers were evacuated from several camps in the area.
Erin Peach works at a Shell facility that has continued operations throughout the fire, and has been flying in and out of the region to work her shifts, staying with her fiance at a hotel south of Edmonton when she’s off.
She was relieved to hear she might soon be able to settle back into more of a routine, saying they’ve already found a place to rent in Fort McMurray.
“I just want to get back to normal,” said Peach. “f I’ve got to boil my water and sleep in my car, I don’t care. I just want to get back to Fort McMurray.”
Manny Eshete, who works for a company that tests soil and concrete, was unsure about rushing back. He said his downtown apartment was untouched by the fire but he wants to be more comfortable in the community _ not boiling water _ when he returns.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray in the legislature and lost his home in the fire, said residents have been anxiously waiting for information on when they can go home so that they can feel like their lives are moving forward.
Pausing to choke back tears, Jean said his once beautiful city will flower again.
“We will rebuild our city and it will be better than ever,” Jean said. “I will have my tool belt on and my shovel in my hand and we will clean it up and rebuild it.”
Melissa Blake, the mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo which encompasses the city of Fort McMurray, praised the Alberta government for the plan.
She warned residents that it won’t be the same community they left and suggested people wait a little longer before going home if they require more services.
Blake also asked residents to keep in mind that the city will bounce back over time.
“I beg you not to put yourself in any kind of risk or peril, to think about again what you’re returning to is not being what you’ve seen before,” she said.
“Envisage and imagine with me what we will be one year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, because that’s the journey that council will be on now.”
Wildfire officials were hopeful about a weather forecast that said some rain could fall in the parched area Thursday and Friday.
“We are all crossing our fingers that that happens,” Notley said.
Today at an Economic Club of Canada event, Don Forgeron, President and CEO of Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), outlined the significant costs of climate change to Canadians, provided a private sector perspective on lessons learned from past and ongoing natural disasters and discussed how the insurance industry and governments can collaborate to increase the financial and physical preparedness to protect Canadians.
“The devastating wildfires, which continue to burn in Northern Alberta, are the most recent and alarming evidence that extreme weather events have increased in both frequency and severity, in Canada. Storms, causing flooding and wildfires in recent years, have turned extreme and at times, tragic,” said Forgeron. “A thoughtful, sustainable approach that puts Canadians at the centre of the solution cannot wait. Severe weather is a fact beyond our immediate control. Floods and fires are going to continue to be a growing problem.”
The annual economic costs of disasters around the globe have increased five-fold since the 1980s, increasing from $25 billion a year in the ’80s, to $130 billion a year in the 2000s. Canada has not been immune to these escalating costs. Federal disaster relief spending has risen from an average of $40 million a year in the 1970s to $100 million a year in the 1990s, reaching over $600 million a year this decade. In Alberta alone in 2013, both federal and provincial spending reached more than $3 billion following the floods.
Recently, a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that over the next five years, the financial cost of natural disasters, driven in part by climate change, will be far greater than previously estimated. And this was before the wildfire in Northern Alberta, which is likely the largest-ever loss of property in Canada.
“By taking action now, we can help minimize the human toll these events have on Canadian families and homeowners, mitigate costs to taxpayers and better equip local communities for the increased severe weather risks,” continued Forgeron. “The federal government has shown their commitment to combatting climate change, as evidenced by the Prime Minister formally signing the Paris Agreement on Earth Day, marking an opportunity to move forward in a way that will make a profound difference in the lives of many. We can help.”
“The time has come for our country to take a more disciplined and sustained approach to how we help prepare people for fires and floods,” added Forgeron. “We need to work together to create a new framework that will allow us to build a more resilient country and better assist those affected by the fallout from our changing climate. By taking action now, we can minimize costs to taxpayers and better equip homeowners for the risks and challenges that lie ahead.”
For more information about IBC’s work to prepare Canadians for severe weather and disasters, visit http://www.ibc.ca.
For full text of the speech please go to ibc.ca.
About Insurance Bureau of Canada
Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers. Its member companies make up 90% of the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market in Canada. For more than 50 years, IBC has worked with governments across the country to help make affordable home, auto and business insurance available for all Canadians. IBC supports the vision of consumers and governments trusting, valuing and supporting the private P&C insurance industry. It champions key issues and helps educate consumers on how best to protect their homes, cars, businesses and properties.
P&C insurance touches the lives of nearly every Canadian and plays a critical role in keeping businesses safe and the Canadian economy strong. It employs more than 120,000 Canadians, pays $8.2 billion in taxes and has a total premium base of $49 billion.
For media releases and more information, visit IBC’s Media Centre at www.ibc.ca.
If you require more information, IBC spokespeople are available to discuss the details in this media release.
SOURCE Insurance Bureau of Canada
The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction has identified best practices for the design and construction of homes to reduce the risk of loss and damage from several natural hazards, including wildfire. These elements, part of ICLR’s ‘Insurers Rebuild Better Homes’ program, are actively encouraged when insurance companies respond to a total loss, and should be considered with a partial loss event.
The program sets out three essential elements for each hazard (basement flooding, wildfire, extreme wind and hail) that provide the greatest impact on risk reduction, and several additional elements that would further improve resilience if funds are available.
The wildfire elements of the program are recommended in all areas at risk of wildfire, and are particularly important in the wildland-urban interface.
- All roofing materials and installation requirements must be A, B or C rated fire resistant. Asphalt, clay tile or metal roofing should be given preference.
- Use fire resistant siding, such as stucco, metal siding, brick or cement shingles. Sheath exterior walls from the ground level to the roofline with minimum ½” sheathing. Exterior walls should be free of gaps or openings that would allow embers to enter building envelope or become trapped behind siding. Heavy timber construction must provide a minimum 20-minute fire rating.
- Ensure that exterior windows, windows within exterior doors and skylights are made of tempered glass, multi-layered glazed panels, glass block, or have fire resistance rating of no less than 20 minutes. Exterior doors shall be solid-core wood no less than 1 3⁄4″ thick, approved non-combustible construction, or have a fire protection rating of no less than 20 minutes.
- Install non-combustible roof gutters, downspouts and connectors, with a cover to prevent accumulation of debris. Use a roof drip edge.
- Screen vents and soffits with a corrosion-resistant, non-combustible wire mesh (mesh opening not to exceed ¼” in size).
- Close in eaves, attics, decks and openings under floors with non-combustible materials or, as a minimum, all openings should be screened with corrosion-resistant, ¼” non-combustible wire mesh. Cover attic, foundation and vertical wall ventilation openings with ¼” mesh corrosion-resistant metal screen or other non-combustible material.
- Install non-combustible mesh window screening to prevent the collection of firebrands and embers or their entry into open windows.
- Exterior projections (e.g., decks, balconies, car port covers, etc.) should be constructed of non-combustible material, fire-retardant-treated wood, or other ignition-resistant materials, or be a 1-hour fire-rated assembly.
- Non-combustible materials should be used for balcony and deck surfaces. Decks should be either sheathed with non-flammable materials with access to allow for clean out of flammable materials beneath decks, or have a non-combustible surface free of combustible material below the deck and out to 1 m horizontal from the edge of the deck. Stilts should be built from, or encased in non-combustible materials.
- Install a spark arrester on every fireplace and wood stove chimney (minimum 12-gauge welded wire or woven wire mesh, openings not to exceed ½”).
- No attic ventilation openings or ventilation louvers shall be permitted in soffits, in eave overhangs, between rafters at eaves, or in other overhanging areas on exposures facing hazardous vegetation.
ICLR’s ‘Insurers Rebuild Stronger Homes’ is the first program in the world setting out the actions that insurance companies can take to strengthen the disaster preparedness of homeowners by building back better homes after a disaster strikes. The insurance industry provides the majority of funds to support the recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of homes damaged or destroyed in Canada by natural hazards. The recovery and rebuilding process is a critical opportunity to build back better, enhancing the resilience of Canadian homes to future hazards at little or no additional cost.
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Established in 1998 by Canada’s property and casualty insurers, ICLR is an independent, not-for-profit research institute based inToronto and at Western University in London, Canada. ICLR is a centre of excellence for disaster loss prevention research and education. ICLR’s research staff is internationally recognized for pioneering work in a number of fields including wind and seismic engineering, atmospheric sciences, water resources engineering and economics. Multi-disciplined research is a foundation for ICLR’s work to build communities more resilient to disasters.
SOURCE Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
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