LAC LA BICHE, Alta. – Dave Cramm doesn’t understand why he can’t go home.
The 38-year-old welder said it appears that his house in Fort McMurray’s Timberlea neighbourhood was untouched by a wildfire that engulfed some areas of the city last week.
He wants to at least check on his pet fish and grab a few things he left behind.
About 85 per cent of the Alberta city’s structures were saved, but Premier Rachel Notley has said it will be two weeks before residents will be given an idea when they can return.
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Cramm is worried that if people are kept out of the city for too long, especially if they know their homes are undamaged, things could get tense.
“It’s going to create hostility,” said Cramm, who on Tuesday was smoking outside a reception centre in Lac La Biche, Alta., about a three-hour drive south of Fort McMurray.
“You got people here getting stressed out.”
Cramm said he tried to go back, but was turned away at a police barricade. He said he won’t try that again because “you don’t want the trouble,” but wonders whether others will be willing to hold off.
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Two wildfires in the Fort McMurray area had joined by Tuesday to form a single blaze covering about 2,300 square kilometres.
In a statement Tuesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said:
“I know first-hand how hard it is to be away from your community, not knowing what you’ll find when you return home. However, our priority is the safety of Albertans and right now Fort McMurray is not safe. The power grid has been damaged, and large portions of the city don’t have power.
“The water is not drinkable, and there is a great deal of hazardous material that needs to be cleaned up.
“We have people on the ground, as we speak, conducting damage assessments and beginning repairs. We need to let those trained professionals into Fort McMurray, so they can make it safe for residents to return home.”
Kevin Lewis said he was anxious to return to his home in Thickwood, another neighbourhood that appears to have come out of the fire in good shape.
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He has had no news of the pitbull he left behind and he’s been unable to run his transportation brokerage business.
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But he understands the rationale for keeping residents out for now.
“There’s obviously power lines down and I know the water is not drinkable right now. They have to reroute the gas lines .. from the areas that were affected the worst, so there’s no chance of any leaks, so I understand the waiting game.”
What he doesn’t like is being in the “unknown zone.” He said up-to-date information from authorities has been lacking.
“If there’s no communication, that just opens up a big kettle of fish there. Now we can only speculate.”
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Lewis said he’s going to stick around Lac La Biche for the time being.
“I really don’t feel like being a long ways away and having to endure the drive again.”
It’s been tough going for some evacuees elsewhere.
Alberta Health Services said Tuesday it was dealing with more than 100 cases of what appears to be viral gastroenteritis at some evacuation centres.
Chris Sikora, Edmonton’s medical health officer, said 105 cases were reported in Edmonton, four cases in Calgary and nine in the central zone.
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Back in Lac La Biche, Nicole Barrett, an oilsands process operator, said it’s tough to get accurate information about assistance from government agencies and a lot of rumours are circulating.
She has been camping with her fiance’s family about 20 minutes outside town. She’d prefer to be home, but gets why she can’t.
“In the end it’s really for everybody’s safety. We all want to go home, but at least when we get home everything’s going to be good to go. We’ll have our power, water. Stores will be open.”
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The wait doesn’t bother Kevin Sturge, who was relaxing with his terrier-shih-tzu cross, Jack, curled up at his side.
“I feel like I’ve got to move on,” said Sturge, who has spent 37 years in Fort McMurray. He made a good living working as a driver there, but tussles with employers over the years make him less than keen to go back.
“I’m looking for a used vehicle right now so I can go across Canada and visit my family, and then come back and find a place to live for me and Jake,” he said.
“I want a small town because it’s a good environment for Jake.”
Kevin Sturge and his dog, Jake, sleeping upstairs in the Lac La Biche evacuation centre.
Sarah Offin / Global News