Nearly two months after fast-moving wildfires in Fort McMurray forced 80,000 people to evacuate the Canadian city, some residents are still returning to their homes—or what’s left of them.
Verna Murphy, her husband, and their three children returned this week after being evacuated to the north. Their home was still standing, with some flooding in the basement, but some of their neighbors returned to nothing more than debris.
“You’re standing there and you’re seeing people sifting through trying to find something left in the ash,” Verna Murphy told Information Morning, a CBC radio show in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, on Tuesday. “It was a lot to take in yesterday, along with just coming back and dealing with everything.”
Murphy and her family were evacuated and lived in an apartment in Edmonton until last weekend. Residents were allowed to begin reentering the city June 1, a full month after the blaze began 15 kilometers, or just under 10 miles, southwest of the city. Murphy said she waited because she has severe lung issues, and worried about the air quality.
The wildfires, which came to be known as “the beast,” began southwest of Fort McMurray. Dry weather conditions and high temperatures fed the flames, and within days dozens of fires were burning in and around the city, engulfing it in black smoke and ash. Officials announced a mandatory evacuation order, and thousands of people rushed to Highway 63, the only major highway connecting Fort McMurray to the rest of Alberta. One woman recently told Canada’s Global News she grabbed only passports, external hard drives, and the family dog, while her son took some of his stuffed Pokemon toys.