HUFFINGTON POST
05/23/2011 09:59 am ET Updated Jul 23, 2011

Slake Lakes Evacuees Get Bus Tours

Officials in Slave Lake, Alta., say bus tours to allow displaced residents to see what remains of their fire-ravaged community will begin Monday.

At a briefing Sunday, officials said the tours would start Monday morning. Five buses will take about 250 residents through their community.

Residents who have lost their homes will get the first tours. Media will not be permitted aboard the buses, and residents will not be allowed to disembark.

Officials say the decision to offer the tours was made to allow residents to grieve, although the area has not been deemed safe.

An estimated 50 per cent of the town is still smouldering one week after a forest fire ripped through the community. Officials say they are still seeing hot spots and new fires cropping up.

News of the tours softened more bad news for evacuees, who learned they won't be able to return to their homes for at least another week.

Evacuees were told the plan for returning depends on the town's ability to re-establish all of the essential services, such as gas, water and electricity.

Losses grieved at town hall meetings

Reporters were not allowed to attend the town hall meetings, but they learned that emotions ran high.

"Evacuees are very frustrated," CBC's Bryan Labby said from Athabasca. "I'm told that people were expressing sadness and anger. It's been described to me as kind of a grieving process for a lot of these people."

A third of Slave Lake, 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, burned down last Sunday in what's being called the worst firestorm in modern Canadian history.

About 7,000 people had to escape the raging wildfire, which covered 45 square kilometres and remained out of control on the weekend.

No one was killed, but the fire badly damaged or destroyed more than 450 homes and businesses.