Hundreds of Alberta evacuees still using temporary accommodations, hotels after 2023 wildfires

Alberta Wildfires. Image credit: Unsplash Christopher Burns

Calgary/CMEDIA: Thousands of Albertans who reportedly were forced to evacuate due to wildfires this spring, but hundreds of residents are still living in temporary accommodations, or hotels.

The hardest hit during last year’s wildfire season was the northern Alberta community of Fox Lake which had lost more than 200 structures, including 100 homes, a grocery store, an RCMP detachment and a water treatment plant.

A remote community that lies on the south side of the Peace River, about 550 kilometres north of Edmonton, Fox Lake is home to the majority of members of the Little Red River Cree Nation. 

With the approach of the Paskwa fire, about 4,000 residents fled Fox Lake in early May of last year.
Although more than a year later, many residents have returned to Fox Lake, hundreds are still living elsewhere.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), which received data from the Little Red River Cree Nation reported that out of approximately 525 long-term evacuees from Fox Lake as of May 20, nearly 300 were living in hotels in High Level and Fort Vermilion while several dozen were staying in rentals, and camps.
Crystal McAteer, High Level’s mayor reported saying that since these people had no place to return to, they stayed here, sent their children to school here and have become part of the community..

Wildfire also claimed dozens of homes including in Yellowhead County, East Prairie Métis Settlement, on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.
While Alberta provides funding to municipalities and Métis settlements affected by wildfires, it is the federal government which leads recovery efforts on reserves.

Over $380 million to First Nations in Alberta has been provided by ISC for response and recovery activities related to last year’s wildfire season ,Goulet, the spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, said. 

The Little Red River Cree Nation received money through the Emergency Management Assistance Program, she said and ISC continues to provide support with meals, accommodation, personal contents and other losses for long-term evacuees.

Although the recovery is well underway in Fox Lake, many destroyed homes and buildings have yet to be rebuilt.

A temporary grocery store opened in February by the North West Company and plans to build a bigger one, according to Dave Adamson, the company’s director of sales and operations.
 RCMP Const. Kristen Marson said that Police officers are working out of a trailer until a new detachment is built.

Four studio homes were donated earlier this year by the Trade Winds to Success Training the Little Red River Cree Nation.  

With 21 new homes almost ready to live in and another 20 will be under construction right away, said Wendell Pleasant, the deputy director of emergency management for the Little Red River Cree Nation,

Pleasant added that work on the homes started in the fall but the community ran into trouble bringing in equipment and housing materials.

Since no roads lead directly to Fox Lake, most goods arrive in the community by barge or ice road in the winter, but warm weather and water fluctuations in the river affect those transportation routes.

Ryan Tyndall with Indigenous Services Canada said water released from a BC Hydro dam hindered the community’s ability to use their ice bridges.

“We are working very closely with the community to develop immediate solutions to overcome challenges and support them in their rebuilding and recovery efforts following the wildfires,” he said in a statement.

More recently, a state of local emergency has been declared by the Little Red River Cree Nation since communities’ well-being and safety were at “dire risk” because of gang activity, drugs, alcohol, illegal use of firearms, assaults, murders and suicides.