Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ferocious Fort McMurray Wildfire Voted Canadian Press News Story of the Year

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ferocious Fort McMurray Wildfire Voted Canadian Press News Story of the Year

Article excerpt

Fort McMurray wildfire voted CP top news story

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The ferocious wildfire that forced nearly 90,000 to flee Canada's oilsands region and reduced thousands of homes to rubble has been picked as the top news story of 2016 in an annual survey of newsrooms across Canada by The Canadian Press.

Dubbed "the beast" for its merciless unpredictability, the Fort McMurray wildfire garnered 39 of the 67 votes cast by senior editors. It was followed by Canada's ongoing resettlement of Syrian refugees with 11 votes, the fentanyl crisis with six and the Tragically Hip's farewell tour with five.

"Not even a Hollywood script could match the terror, uncertainty, and heroism to come out of what seemed to be a surreal event," wrote Dave Barry, news director of CKPG TV in Prince George, B.C.

The fire began in a remote forested area southwest of the city on May 1 during a spell of unusually hot and dry spring weather. By suppertime on May 3 the flames were inside the city and all of Fort McMurray was under a mandatory evacuation order.

People fled from their neighourhoods with forest ablaze on both sides of the road and ash raining down. They crawled bumper-to-bumper along Highway 63 -- the only route out of town.

Nobody died as a direct result of the fire, though two teenagers were killed in a highway crash south of the city.

Residents started coming back in early June. The majority returned to unscathed homes, but many had nothing but piles of ash inside blackened foundations.

All told, the fire consumed some 2,400 units, most residential.

Erin O'Neill, operations manager with the municipality's recovery task force, said 350 rebuilding permits have been approved since the fire and 160 new homes have begun construction.

"Depending on the area, you're seeing complete houses, you're seeing some houses that already have siding on them, windows in. You're seeing other houses that have rafters on. You're seeing foundations in the ground," said O'Neill.

"When you go into these areas, as opposed to seeing all of that ash and debris, now you're seeing a site that looks like a new subdivision."

O'Neill said she's expecting construction to really pick up in the spring. …

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