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'Logistical headache': Northern Alberta chief on rebuilding hundreds of homes destroyed by wildfire


The rebuilding process is slowly getting underway in Fox Lake on the Little Red River Cree Nation.

About 3,700 people were forced out of the community in May because of wildfire.

To date, only about 80 families have been able to return.

Chief Conroy Sewpegham says hundreds of homes were destroyed by fire.

"We're looking at close to over 200 infrastructure units. So that's homes, not including the power poles. So if you include the power poles, the infrastructure, the electricity, the water lines, we’re upwards of about 300 infrastructure units," he told CTV News Edmonton on Saturday.

As a result, about 1,600 people have no home to return to.

"It’s been heartbreaking," he said.

"You could see the trauma in some of these young kids' eyes or families because this is the first time something this devastating has happened to our nation."

Rebuilding will be a major challenge for the remote community, which is located more than 600 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Fox Lake is only accessible by air or by taking a barge across the water, and the highway leading to the community isn't paved.

"We have people and contractors and clean up crews waiting for between two to four hours to get across, so by the time they get across they already eat up most of their labour time," Sewpegham said.

"So two or three hours there, and then they have to come line up again so that's been our logistical headache since we’re now at this rebuilding stage."

And Sewpegham says he wants to see the community built back better than it was.

"We’re not planning on rebuilding Fox Lake the way it was, we’re planning to rebuild Fox Lake the way it should be."

"We don’t have a hospital, we don’t have a ferry, we don’t have a bridge, we don’t have pavement leading up to our community, we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure in place to fight these fires."

But he says to do that, they'll need help from all levels of government.

He says the province has been providing much-needed support.

"We do have commitment from the province that they are building us a ferry which is a great step. I know they’re working on the first of four phases of paving Highway 58 east."

In addition to rebuilding, Sewpegham says they'll be looking at mental health supports and a healing lodge for the community.

"One of the band members told me that every time he smells smoke it triggers him back to that memory of watching his house in flames," he said.

"How do you deal with that? Especially as a First Nation culture we primarily use fires to do a lot of things, for either ceremonies or even just sitting by the fire, and I just can’t imagine that."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson