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“Extreme” air quality levels could delay Fort McMurray recovery work

Extreme air quality conditions could mean delays in getting Fort McMurray residents back home. The scale is normally from 1 to 10, but Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services Dr. Karen Grimsrud says the city and surrounding area are sitting at a 38.

“Compared to last week, where the cooler weather really made a difference and the wind direction was different. The culmination, as I understand, of the warmer weather today as well as the wind conditions really switched things around and really resulted in the air quality.”

No timeline has been set for evacuees’ return, but Premier Rachel Notley says this could set back some of the work needed for that to happen. She adds Alberta Health Services has recommended people who had previously arranged to return for whatever reason not come back until the situation improves.

“Those already working up in the area have been advised of the health issues. The re-entry of additional response personnel has been delayed, but it is clear that this is something that could potentially delay recovery work and a return to the community.”

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However, Notley says response personnel had been making faster than anticipated progress on re-entry work. A timeline for the return of residents is expected by the end of this week.

The blaze has grown to roughly 285,000 hectares. Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire expects the next few days to be difficult.

“We do expect the northern and northeast flanks to be challenged. We continue to make very good progress on hot spots around the community, but let me be clear: there’s thousands of them around there still that firefighters have to work and clean up. With the extreme fire behaviour ongoing around the outside, it’s still not safe for folks to be back there.”

The fire is still about 10 to 12 kilometres from the Saskatchewan border.

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