A condominium construction site is seen in Slave Lake, Alberta, on May 11, 2012.
Credits: IAN KUCERAK/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY
SLAVE LAKE -- It's been a long and arduous road to recovery for Slave Lake and there's still more work to be done, say officials.
Roughly one-third of the northern Alberta community was incinerated last May -- 502 households were reduced to ashes and rubble -- when tinder-dry conditions and high winds sent a devastating wildfire through the town.
Fortunately no one was killed in the blaze -- billed as the second biggest insurable disaster in Canadian history -- but the damage estimate came in at a whopping $700-million.
"Out of the 502 households we lost, 333 were single detached family homes and 169 apartments," said Pillay-Kinnee, adding a total of 10 businesses and three churches were also decimated.
"The sheer magnitude of the loss was unbelievable."
Insurance companies in the area forged a consortium, working together to process claims for displaced residents.
Crews began clearing burnt out homes, even as firefighters worked to extinguish dozens of hotspots in the town's southeast corner.
Pillay-Kinnee calls the efforts in the fire's immediate aftermath 'remarkable', adding it was amazing to see how everyone collaborated.
"We thought based on the magnitude of the disaster that we wouldn't be able to have it cleaned up by spring, well, that was done in September," she stressed.
"So, it was just outstanding."
The work continued, and as it became more organized, she says she could see the determination in the eyes of every volunteer, construction worker or developer she passed.
"Our local developers took off full steam ahead," she said.
"Our local contractors they care about our citizens, it's their family and friends so they worked around the clock."
One family's home, she noted, was erected and completed in just 31 days.
Now, thanks to a favourable construction season, numerous houses are being built throughout the town's hardest-hit neighbourhood, and the town's Government Centre and library are on the mend.
"To date we have 209 permits for houses, so a lot of construction underway, and that's close to two-thirds of the homes being re-built," said Pillay-Kinnee.
Though she's overjoyed at the town's progress, she's aware of the heavy price residents have paid.
"Rebuilding a home in the best of times is a daunting task," she said "To be forced to and to remember everything you've lost is pretty tasking, and I know it's been overwhelming for many residents."
Now, as the town gets set to mark one year since the fire this Tuesday, Pillay-Kinnee took a moment Saturday to reflect on the last year.
It brought a wry smile to her face.
"In some ways it feels like we've worked long hours for 10 years," she said. "And then you look at the progress we've made and it's like, 'Wow, we did that in just a year?"
As for what's ahead for the recovering town?
"More hard work and long hours," she laughed. "As long as we can keep our community together and pull through, I think we're going to make it."