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Slave Lake and First Nation Residents Return

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The Government of Alberta started allowing Slave Lake’s 7,000 residents back into town on May 27, nearly two weeks after wildfires destroyed 40 percent of it.

This included the Sawridge First Nation, whose residents were permitted to return starting at 8 a.m. along with the people of the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River, according to a government release. Other residents started to return at 1 p.m.

It marked the final stage of a four-phase reentry plan for the community designed to “support a safe and orderly return of evacuees,” the provincial government said. “The [Emergency Operations Centre] has determined it is safe to move forward with this phase, which allows for general re-entry of all residents to homes or temporary accommodation in the region.”

Thousands of residents in and around Slave Lake fled on May 15 and 16 as wildfires swept through town. No lives were lost, hundreds remain homeless, their dwellings in ashes in one of Canada’s worst-ever municipal fires. It took the new police station and town hall, among other buildings, but fast work by volunteer firefighters saved the hospital, according to the Edmonton Journal on May 25.

Meanwhile, at least one First Nations chief felt the oil sands were favored during the fires.

"They're focusing all their attention on the oilsands area," Chief Allan Adam told the newspaper Fort McMurray Today on May 18. "In my view it seems like the town of Slave Lake and the northern part of Alberta were sacrificed in order to protect the oilsands.”

First Nations communities also felt out of the loop when it came to evacuation instructions, reported iNews 880, though everyone in the area had to leave on short notice. Chief Jim Badger of Sucker Creek First Nation told the station that most of the fire warnings came via word of mouth rather than any official notification. He heard it in a cell phone call from a friend, he said, which was how most of his fellow First Nations citizens found out.

The Sucker Creek community was spared and has opened its community to evacuees, he said.