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Slave Lake fire: One year later


Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

May 14, 2012 — It's been one year since a massive forest fire roared through the community of Slave Lake, burning structures to the ground and leaving hundreds without homes. The Weather Network takes a look back at the disaster.

An evacuee waits in a shelter outside of Slave Lake, AB
An evacuee waits in a shelter outside of Slave Lake, AB

It was the largest mass-evacuation in Alberta's history, and quickly became Canada's the second-costliest disaster to date.  

On May 15, 2011, a firestorm devastated the community of Slave Lake. Hundreds of structures were destroyed, including the town hall. It would be days before residents could even return to assess the damage. 

RCMP later determined the fire was deliberately set. 

The Weather Network takes a look back at the timeline of events that unfolded during and in the wake of this disaster. 

TIMELINE / KEY DATES


MAY 14: A fire is ignited outside of the community of Slave Lake, AB. 

MAY 15: Flames from two burning fires reach the community in the afternoon hours. Evacuation notices are posted. By the evening, flames had entered the town.  All 7,000 residents of the town were told to leave their homes or face the risk of being arrested. Many did not even have an opportunity to grab belongings. Within hours, nearly 400 homes and businesses had been burnt to the ground.

May 16: 95 per cent of residents had been safely evacuated. Alberta cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk calls it the largest single-day displacement of people in the province’s history. 

May 17 - 19: In the days that followed, residents became anxious to not only return to the town, but to see if they still had a house to come home to. Emergency officials told them that they had to stay out of Slave Lake because of open gas lines and smoke laced with chemicals. By May 19, officials had determined which homes had been damaged or destroyed. 

May 20: Prime Minister Stephen Harper got a look at the devastation on the ground and in a helicopter. 

May 23: Officials give residents tours around the fire-ravaged community. 

May 27: Many residents return to the community. 

Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Slave Lake last July
Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Slave Lake last July

THE AFTERMATH

In late June, the town of Slave Lake put out a call for more than 200 modular homes to be in place by the fall to serve as interim housing. Around the same time, however, the weather was proving to be a problem once again.Thunderstorms brought plenty of rainfall to the region, and at one point, rebuilding efforts had to be put on hold. 

On July 6, Prince William and Kate Middleton made a surprise visit to the town on their royal tour of Canada. 

In September, a benefit concert, headlined by country singer Paul Brandt, raised an estimated 150,000 dollars. 

After investigations, the Insurance Bureau of Canada says that the Slave Lake fire is the second-costliest insured disaster in Canadian history. At $700 million, it’s behind only the ice storm that hit Quebec and Ontario in 1998, which cost more than $1.8 billion.  

WHAT'S NEXT

The town has issued permits to rebuild about half the destroyed properties. Neighbourhoods in Slave Lake that were reduced to rubble are coming back to life.

A milder-than-normal winter also allowed construction to continue longer and start up again earlier than expected. As the warm summer months approach, construction is expected to speed up, as well. 

While some continue rebuild and heal, other residents have decided to leave the town all together. For sale signs are a common sight in the hardest-hit areas. 

Some residents have reported anxiety since the disaster. In fact, the Canadian Red Cross has been sending out pamphlets to Slave
Lake residents reminding them that the first anniversary of last
year's fire may be stressful. They call it "anniversary syndrome'' and its symptoms consist of headaches, stomach trouble and difficulty sleeping.

For updates on the current risk of forest fires across Canada, be sure to check out Forest Fire Watch: Fire Danger Map. 

With files from the Canadian Press

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