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P.E.I. natives back to Fort Mac but many others didn't return

Ivy and Barry Perry, viewing a live video feed of their Timberlea neighbourhood while back in P.E.I. last spring. The Island natives hastily retreated from their Fort McMurray home on May 3, 2016, when wildfires threatened their city.
Ivy and Barry Perry, viewing a live video feed of their Timberlea neighbourhood while back in P.E.I. last spring. The Island natives hastily retreated from their Fort McMurray home on May 3, 2016, when wildfires threatened their city.

FORT McMURRAY, ALTA. – For nearly a month last spring, Barry and Ivy Perry agonized over what they might find when they finally got the all-clear to return to their Fort McMurray, Alta., home.

They had viewed live video feeds showing their Timberlea neighbourhood unscathed by the wildfires, but they were anxious to get back to find out for sure.

Like thousands of others, the rapidly moving fires had forced the Perrys from their home on May 3, 2016. They made it back to their native P.E.I. by May 6 and spent 25 days with family in Tignish.

When they flew back to Alberta on June 1, their property was as they had left it.

It was a bittersweet return, though, as they drove through much destruction en route.

Today, “If you came to town, you wouldn’t even know there was a fire,” Barry Perry said in a telephone interview from Fort McMurray this week. “Everything is all cleaned up.”

But, scratch the surface and things aren’t the same.

“The mood is different,” he said. “A lot of people are frustrated. A lot of people are happy. Much of both moods has to do with the way their insurance claims get settled.”
FULL COVERAGE: Fire in Fort McMurray: One year later

While some Fort McMurray residents have returned, others have chosen not to and have their properties for sale.

He is hearing suggestions that about one-quarter of the people who lost their homes to the hungry fires will not rebuild. Some, he said, are taking a payout from their insurance companies and putting their lots up for sale. Upwards to 1,800 homes were destroyed.

“The volume of people is not here,” he added, explaining that with the economy still hasn’t recovered from the downturn in the oil industry and some people have opted not to return to Fort McMurray.

Yet, there is evidence in every affected neighbourhood of a resolve to rebuild. Foundations are being poured and new construction is underway.

But even that is a mixed blessing for some local companies.

Perry said there are so many companies forming, or moving to the area, to get a piece of the action, that some of the existing companies in Fort McMurray, including his own, are missing out. He does vinyl siding work and operates a utility vehicle loader.

“Work has been slow,” he said. “It’s kind of a sad situation.”

Photos submitted by P.E.I. natives Barry and Ivy Perry show some of the progress that has been made in Fort McMurray, Alta., where they live and work. The debris from last year’s destructive wildfires has been cleaned up and new homes are springing up.

Some of the new companies, Perry added, are unable to find enough workers to fill their crews, and that is causing frustrations for residents ready to rebuild.

Perry sees reason for optimism that there won’t be a repeat of last year’s destruction in Fort McMurray. He said buffer zones have been cut around subdivisions in the city and controlled burns were conducted throughout the winter, so that if there is another forest fire, it will be less likely to make the jump into residential neighbourhoods.

RELATED: Last year's interview with the Perrys

There has not been a repeat of last spring’s weather conditions, when several days of 30 C temperatures made conditions ripe for disaster.

“This year we’ve never seen double digits (temperature) enough to talk about,” he said.

One constant then and now is the Canadian Red Cross. They are still very much involved in the rebuild of Fort McMurray, Perry added.

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