In Fort McMurray, stark contrast between devastated and untouched neighbourhoods

Officials lead media tour through charred remains of city

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — It’s impossible to tell where one house ended and the next began.

Zoom out on this stretch of Beacon Hill Drive in southwest Fort McMurray and it’s a scene sapped of colour — all charred black, ashy white and sickly beige.

Zoom in and everyday objects become discernible in a tangled sea of rubble — the lopsided frame of a swingset, a barbecue, a wire cage for a pet hamster or bird.

By the curb is the husk of a pickup truck, its tires melted puddles on the pavement. Further back, the remnants of a wall, crumpled like a piece of paper, and what’s left of a home’s interior plumbing, water still spurting out.

Yet bus shelters remain intact.

Beacon Hill was one of the first Fort McMurray neighbourhoods to catch fire a week ago, regional fire chief Darby Allen told reporters on a bus tour Monday of the northeastern Alberta city.

If not for the quick action and smart decisions of firefighters, much more of Fort McMurray would have suffered the same fate, he said.

Up to 90 per cent of the city was saved in the end — 2,400 structures damaged and 25,000 still standing.

As the bus makes its way through downtown Fort McMurray’s main drag, Franklin Ave., nothing seems amiss except for the absence of a single human being. Strip malls, the local college and the hospital were all untouched by the flames.

Firefighters worked for 12 hours to keep flames on a thickly treed hillside from spreading, Allen said. Had they not been successful, “we would have lost the downtown.”

Uphill, in the community of Abasand, it’s a scene of stark contrast.

On one side of a street, a row of homes is perfectly intact. On the other, a condo complex has been flattened.

Under the parking garage of the complex remain a few parked vehicles. A blackened children’s bicycle leans against a chain-link fence along with an adult-sized one. Across the way is a blackened bath tub and an singed stove, flipped upside-down.

When destroyed buildings can be found so close to pristine ones in the aftermath of a fire, it’s not a fluke, said Allen.

“When you see isolated instances like that, it was specific firefighter operations internally that stopped the spread of that fire.”

To Fort McMurray residents seeing the devastating images on television or social media for the first time, Allen had a message — hundreds of emergency workers “gave their all” to save as much of the city as they could.

“Fort McMurray is still alive.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Kelowna’s Gospel Mission serves annual Christmas dinner

Between 700 to 800 meals were served Saturday to the community

Your weekend story highlights

Every Saturday, the Capital News will highlight stories from the week

The Paperboys visit Kelowna

Check out the Rotary Centre for the Arts Jan. 27

Let it snow in Kelowna

Snow is in the forecast for this week

Photos: Adventuring in Stuart Park

Have you seen Friday’s edition of the Capital News? Check out the photos featured

All aboard the Summerland Christmas Express

The first train of the Summerland Christmas Express schedule.

EDITORIAL: Putting #MeToo to work in your workplace

Workers from top to bottom need to stand together against the bully of sexual harassment

Porter blanks Blades in Rockets’ road trip finale

Rookie netminder stops 40 shots in Kelowna’s last game before Christmas break

All aboard the Summerland Christmas Express

The first train of the Summerland Christmas Express schedule.

Meningococcal clinics open this Sunday

Interior Health is stepping up efforts to get young people vaccinated against Meningococcal.

Update: RCMP arrest domestic assault suspect west of Kamloops.

The RCMP Emergency Response Team made the arrest at around 4:30 p.m.

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

#MeToo at work: Employers play a role in fixing culture of sexual harassment

B.C. workplaces are getting ahead of being the next MeToo debacle, calling on experts to train staff

Most Read