Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority Chief, Brian McEvoy says 1200-1300 Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees called Bonnyville home over the last 40 days. McEvoy explains many have gone home or are in the process of re-entry and/or finding more permanent housing.
“We are in the wrap-up phase of the reception centre,” McEvoy says there are 29 people in 14 hotel rooms being housed in Bonnyville, “all of those people, except for one group, have made arrangements to transition to self-supporting housing.” McEvoys says with the 29 people moving on, the Town will be out of the “housing business”; however there will still be evacuees in the community. “we still have a number of [evacuee] here through the Provincial WETA (Wildfire Evacuee Transitional Accommodation) Program and through the Red Cross to stay here, because their kids are in school or they have health problems. Those situations have been addressed individually.” McEvoy says there is one couple in the community who are staying in town waiting on the birth of their son.
On Tuesday there was a session for volunteers, says McEvoy, “we did a round-table on what we learned and what we can do better. Everybody had a chance to share their experiences; that went really well.”
Mayor of Bonnyville, Gene Sobolewski was at the round-table, “one of the messages I provided to the group was our EOC (Emergency Operations Centre), we communicated and when necessary we made decisions. A lot of kudos that I personally delivered; not only to the volunteers, but all the people that were involved with this from the beginning. Brian (McEvoy) & his crew, the Town staff, the MD, we all pulled together for the common good.” Mayor Sobolewski says the Province took note of Bonnyville’s efforts, “the Provincial EOC took note of what we were doing and started to implement practices we had. Hats off to the leadership!”
Mayor Sobolewski sends a personal thank you to the Bonnyville Baptist Church, “when I phoned [the church the first day], they had already set up a donation centre and organized a semi of donations. It escalated from there to the BCHS school, they looked after everything from there for materials management. It took countless volunteers – so hats off to them!”
“We had people who were paying people to cover their work, so they could volunteer for us,” McEvoy says the dedication of the volunteer force in Bonnyville was overwhelming. “[It was amazing to see] that level of dedication of the group, we’ve put together over the years, in our emergency social services.”
The Town of Bonnyville officially registered 979 evacuees, on top of that there was an additional 200-300 people who were unregistered and an undetermined number of people from the Fort McMurray First Nations staying at a local hotel. The First Nations people had their authorities handle the registration process, so it is not known exactly how many people were staying at the hotel.
McEvoy says over the next week or two volunteers will bring the operation to a successful conclusion.