The people of Fort McMurray will need time to reorient themselves to the landscape and will drive north more slowly to absorb the change and take a bit more time to prepare themselves for the extent to which their environment will have changed. They will need new bearings in this familiar but altered place and then from there they will try to look within and determine what they will need going forward. The list of the tangible will be easy to form and will be lengthened and reinforced with each turn of the head, each wet blink and the new horizons. The intangible will be harder to account for and the challenge will be to hang onto the optimism to maintain that list with the hope that they might put and "x" or a checkmark in a box or two on that mental list of what they need to make life go on.
In preparation for the return of citizens to the city, Fort Mac's infrastructure has been assessed and tested and its needs triaged. There will be gaps and shortfalls in the weeks and months ahead and early patience will come from people being in their homes once again after weeks of transience and uncertainty. The individual task of cleaning up will be unpleasant with, at the very least, the hazmat preparations required to reenter one's abandoned kitchen and address the state it might be in after the power being off as long as it has. That grotesquery will be the tip of the iceberg of the challenges that people will face in sorting their lives out. For those who have lost their homes and still face the precarious questions about their employment and their future face even more daunting questions about their present and future, including the question of whether they ever go back. Once again, people in Fort McMurray will feel the peril of being in the crosshairs of forces far beyond their control.
For all that though, Fort McMurray has been taken to the hearts of the country in the last four weeks. For much of the last decade and a half, if not longer, the city was synonymous with the largesse of the oilsands, the oil industry's indifference to the environment and the excess that oil wealth induced in the people who lived there or were just passing through. For the longest time, Fort Mac had was a place that was home for only a few and only for a short time. That reputation was among the first things engulfed in the flames first threatened the city.
The citizens of Fort Mac who will reunite in the weeks ahead will realize a strong longing for the neighbours that they shared this nightmare with and as they gather to survey the damage and the good fortune they will be able to communicate volumes to one another, if only with a terse nod, a smile twisted to hold back tears or hugs warmed with the deepest of unspoken promises. As they go back to put their hearts and shoulders into the task of toughing out the months ahead and eking out the life they once had there, they will also carve out a deeper sense of community than one would attribute to a place with such a long-standing reputation for transience.
Fort McMurray now resonates in our collective vocabulary as a place that requires a commitment and an homage from the people who go there, no matter how long they stay. As newcomers - people without the firsthand experience of the May 2016 fire - start to arrive again, there will be among them an impulse to connect with this particular volume of the city's history and survey the landscape for the scars and victories that the city has been left with. The reminders and reminiscences will be on the lips of those who remain and there will be a closeness amongst those who remain in Fort Mac. There ought to be enormous pride among Fort McMurray's citizens for what they have survived and what they will rebuild in the years ahead and, hopefully, that pride will infuse the people and the streets of Fort McMurray with a sense of community that will ensure the city's future is a bright one no matter what uncertainty they face in the weeks and months to come.