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Thousands return to Slave Lake

May 27, 2011, Slave Lake, Alta. – About 7,000 people in Slave Lake, Alta., have been given the green light to return to their community after a wildfire forced them out for almost two weeks.

May 27, 2011 
By The Canadian Press

May 27, 2011, Slave Lake, Alta. – It promises to be the biggest moving day in the history of Alberta as thousands of residents forced from their homes by a wildfire come back.

About 7,000 people in Slave Lake, north of Edmonton, have been given the green light to return after being out for almost two weeks.

The return is expected to be orderly, but not quick.

Provincial officials are telling residents to expect waits up to three hours to clear checkpoints and get into town.


They are being asked to bring enough food and water for three days and fill any drug prescriptions ahead of time.

They will be given cleaning supplies to repair damage to their homes caused by smoke and other contaminants.

Garbage bins, cleaning supplies, gloves and masks are being left at every driveway.

It's the final stage of a plan that began earlier this week to re-populate the town, located on the eastern lip of sprawling Lesser Slave Lake.

Officials have determined that the area is safe, nearby forest fires are under control, and that necessities like power and water are back on.

A boil-water advisory has been lifted.

Slave Lake Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said it will be a transformative event.

"It will be a fantastic feeling to see people come home. People have been very anxious and patient,'' she said.

"People want to get back to their lives.''

Pillay-Kinnee says she plans to be back at her desk.

"First thing in the morning our council begins our rebuilding plan. That's our focus.

"Now that we're in recovery and rebuilding we have to look at what our community is going to look like in the next few months and next few years.''

Nevertheless, a local state of emergency remains in place and Mounties will be manning roadblocks as necessary.

Essential workers like doctors and nurses have already returned. Temporary shelter is being provided for about 100 of them.

Many residents, however, have no place to return and will remain with family, friends or at other locations until other accommodations can be found.

The fire, whipped up by 100 kilometre-an-hour winds, descended on the community on May 15.

It roared up from the southeast, fed by crackling-dry grassland, shooting out embers that in turn started other blazes, overwhelming firefighting crews.

While there were no deaths or injuries, many families had to retreat with just minutes to spare, in many cases taking just their loved ones, some clothes and a few photos.

More than 400 homes and businesses were hit, with entire neighbourhoods in the southeast section reduced literally to ashes.

The province has designated $50 million in disaster relief, which includes more than a thousand dollars for every adult resident.

There has also been an outpouring of generosity from Canadians. They have donated clothing, food and hundreds of thousands of dollars to those who lost everything.

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