Residents of Fort McMurray took another step towards normalcy Wednesday as 439 homes were released from the wildfire restricted zones.
The “green homes” were cleared by the Government of Alberta for re-entry after environmental testing showed air and soil quality to be safe for humans.
The homes are located in Abasand and Beacon Hill, neighbourhoods that were half-destroyed when the wildfire swept through the oilsands city.
Structures closest to the destruction are still off-limits as cleanup efforts continue.
“People are really excited,” said Beacon Hill resident Wade Komel. “I saw a lot of neighbours out there cutting their grass, getting things going, opening up their garages.”
He noted residents still have a long way to go before anyone can live in the area safely again.
Most homes in the area have extensive smoke damage and soft goods like mattresses, couches, and clothes need to be disposed of or deep-cleaned.
While some homeowners have begun the clean-up process, the municipality had been restricting access to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The reduced access hours made it difficult for working residents, like Komel, to get much done.
“It’s still a long process,” he said. “Now that we’re allowed back in, it’s a check in the right box, and we can work with our insurance company on the cleanup.”
Despite that process, he’s brought his family back to Fort McMurray in time for the school year.
He said it’s important for his children to be back among friends and family after spending 118 days in British Columbia since the fire.
Komel estimates his own home won’t be ready until New Year’s Day to live in, but you won’t hear him complain.
“Other people have it worse than me, they have to start from scratch,” he said.
The Fort McMurray wildfire destroyed 2,400 houses and apartment units in May, growing to 34 times the size of Saskatoon before being brought under control in early July.