A sign greets visitors to Fort Smith. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Town of Fort Smith has approved a re-entry plan with the general population tentatively allowed to return as soon as September 18.
During a special council meeting on Monday morning, Fort Smith’s mayor and council unanimously approved the recommended re-entry plan. It sets out a proposed timeline for re-opening the town, beginning with the return of essential workers.
According to a briefing note to Fort Smith’s mayor and council dated September 8, the wildfire threat to the main town site is considered low and an area of the fire near Fort Smith has been reclassified as “being held.”
Following publication of this article, James Eastham, incident information officer for the Wood Buffalo Complex, told Cabin Radio that the fire remains out of control. He said of the northern fire perimeter closest to the community, 158 kilometres has been identified where “fire growth is intolerable.” Of that, 22 kilometres of fire perimeter is considered controlled and 80 kilometres considered contained.
An update on the Wood Buffalo Complex published by Parks Canada on Monday morning said while the threat to Fort Smith continues to decrease due to firefighting efforts along the main perimeter to the south, threats to surrounding communities, such as Thebacha, Fort Fitzgerald and Bell Rock, remain.
The Town of Fort Smith’s re-entry plan includes six stages with tentative dates, which are dependent on wildfire activity and road conditions, among other factors:
Demobilization of major structure protection equipment at the main town site: September 8-11;
Announce that essential workers are allowed to begin returning on September 12: September 11;
Prepare all essential services for full operation over a six-day period: September 12-17;
Demobilize structure protection on Bell Rock: TBD;
Welcome back the general population: September 18; and
Welcome back vulnerable populations: TBD.
The plan only applies to the municipality. It states re-entry decisions for areas outside the municipality will be made by applicable agencies and local governments but the town will support those communities with re-entry and structure protection demobilization when the time comes.
The town has stated that residents should not return to Fort Smith unless directed to do so as an essential service worker. Dates for the re-entry of essential workers will be announced on the town’s website and Facebook page. The evacuation order for Fort Smith remains in place.
The town said in the opening days of re-entry, the health centre may not be fully operational, food supplies may not be back to normal levels, schools will not be open, and childcare will likely be unavailable.
Residents of Fort Smith have been displaced from their homes since they were ordered to evacuate on August 12.
Clarification: September 11, 2023 – This story has been updated to include clarification from the incident information officer for the Wood Buffalo Complex that while some of the wildfire’s perimeter has been deemed controlled, the fire remains out of control.