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Fort McMurray wildfire dominated construction headlines in 2016

JOC News Service
Fort McMurray wildfire dominated construction headlines in 2016

FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. – The massive wildfire that tore through Fort McMurray in early May has been called the top Canadian news story of 2016 and was one of the biggest stories of the year for the Journal of Commerce and Daily Commercial News.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) reported on July 7 that Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. estimated the insured property damage of the Fort McMurray wildfire is $3.58 billion — the costliest insured natural disaster in Canadian history, and twice the cost of the previous record holder, the 2013 southern Alberta flood.

The Conference Board of Canada echoed these findings, and said that while the rebuilding effort would boost construction activity in the short term, funds put towards lost capital will leave the provincial and federal government with more debt.

Alberta construction associations responded swiftly to the crisis. The Calgary Construction Association (CCA) met shortly after Fort McMurray was evacuated and decided to donate $100,000 to relief efforts conducted by the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal.

“We went to the board of directors and held a meeting to review the impact of the fires on the Canadian economy and GNP. These raging wildfires have threatened an entire community,” CCA president and CEO Dave Smith said at the time. He added they wanted to give a financial donation rather than in-kind work as that form of donating is “kind of challenging and hard to operationalize.”

The Edmonton Construction Association (ECA) also met on May 10 and invited the Fort McMurray Construction Association (FMCA) to operate out of the ECA’s offices during the fires. The Consulting Engineers of Alberta also contributed both money and expertise to the rebuilding effort.

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation was awarded a contract in August to undertake demolition and debris removal. Initially Specialized Property Evaluation Control Services Limited (SPECS), a private organization hired by insurance companies to manage demolition and cleanup, looked outside of Fort McMurray for prime contractors, frustrating the FMCA, reports stated at the time. The contractor, Christina River Construction, was later issued a stop work order for violating the requirements of the demolition permit by not taking proper steps towards dust mitigation.

“FMCA stands behind the local contracting community and their knowledge, expertise and capacity to rebuild our great community,” FMCA president Charles Iggulden said in a press release.

The Journal of Commerce also made its way to Fort McMurray at the end of September and spoke to homebuilder Darrin Eckel, owner of Vis-Star Homes, who had been hard at work rebuilding homes destroyed in the fire. Eckel said the rebuilding process was a challenge but has been a “silver lining” after the chaos of the wildfires and evacuation.

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 in a Canadian Press article.

“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,” she said, adding she’s expecting construction to really pick up in the spring.

With files from the Canadian Press

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