The province has handed the keys back to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The previously declared provincial state of emergency has been lifted and Wood Buffalo has initiated a state of local emergency, effective as of Canada Day, while rebuilding continues in the wake of the wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than 90,000 people from Fort McMurray and surrounding communities in early May.
For many, lifting the provincial state of emergency signals a large step forward.
“While Fort McMurray is still on the path toward recovery, our government is encouraged by the significant progress the community has made to date,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee in a press release.
“We are confident that a provincial state of emergency is no longer required in order for the municipality to continue this important work. Alberta will continue to stand with the people of Fort McMurray as they rebuild their homes and community.”
The province declared a state of emergency on May 4, a day after the fire which became known as “the Beast” swept into Fort McMurray.
It was the second time in Alberta’s history that such action had been taken — the first occurring during the 2013 Calgary floods.
The state of emergency allowed the province to take a centralized role, alongside the municipality, in combating the wildfire, organizing the evacuations and planning the re-entry process in early June.
This allowed authorities to restrict movement and to do things normally out of their power, such as freezing residential rental pricing so people wouldn’t be gouged by landlords.
Now, those powers are being shifted to the local authority.
In a release, the municipality says the localized state of emergency will allow the maintenance of certain powers to address the needs of the community. It also allows the regional emergency operations centre to “continue supporting the community until the recovery committee is fully operational.”
The release adds that Wood Buffalo residents “will see no change in the level of service or access that they receive.”
Since the fire first hit, and the initial state of emergency declared, $94.5 million has been provided in wildlife relief debit cards to evacuees. Residents of almost every neighbourhood have started to return home.
ATCO has also restored gas to 91 per cent of eligible homes in the community.
Earlier in the week more good news came when advisories to boil water were lifted for many areas.
Alberta Health Services has confirmed water quality has been restored to safe levels in Gregoire, Mackenzie Park, Prairie Creek, Saline Creek, Saline Plateau, Saprae Creek Estates, and on the properties surrounding the Fort McMurray International Airport.
The hardest-hit areas of the city — Beacon Hill, Abasand and Waterways — all continue to have boil water advisories.