More than 700 people who were forced to flee their homes in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement due to wildfire will be allowed to return on Thursday, the Alberta government said.
The community was told to leave immediately on May 29, when the massive Chuckegg Creek wildfire burning near High Level quickly doubled in size and spread.
The following day, it was confirmed more than a dozen homes were lost in the fire.
A notice shared on the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement Facebook page said the evacuation order for the area would be rescinded as of 1 p.m. Thursday, June 20.
Residents returning home should use Highway 35. The Topkins Landing Ferry will not be available. People should not turn on natural gas appliances until they’ve been inspected by a representative from the Paddle Prairie Gas coop. or High Level Alta Gas, the notice said. Residents must also flush all waterlines upon re-entry for between 20 and 30 minutes.
Residents are also asked to register their return with the settlement administration at the Welcome Centre at the Community Hall. There, a cleaning kit and information package will be available for pickup.
“We are not in any imminent danger and have been advised that smoke may come and go all summer,” a message on the Facebook page added.
“Although SRD [Sustainable Resource Development] remains confident we are in no danger, council would like the Chin area to remain on alert in case the situation changes.”
Herb Lehr, president and general councillor for the settlement, worries about what people will return home to.
“To be honest, I think it’s going to be a devastation.
“I went up to Paddle Prairie, I saw the homes. These are now people going home who haven’t seen that their home is gone… When they drive down that road, you see nothing but burnt trees.”
Lehr said between 40 and 50 people will be homeless until some kind of rebuild can begin.
“There were 16 homes that were burned to the ground, about 15 more that have damages to them — siding burned off, this kind of stuff — an undisclosed amount of homes where the power’s been off for 27 days.”
Lehr said when they left in a hurry in May, many residents weren’t aware the situation was as dire as it was.
“They didn’t have the opportunity even to take care of their dogs that were left chained there, their pet that was in the house,” he said. “They didn’t get their life-long memories.”
Watch below (May 31): Jason Kenney reacts to the destruction of homes in Paddle Prairie as a result of wildfires.