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Thousands of residents return to Fort McMurray after wildfire

About 14,000 returnees are expected on the first day of a phased re-entry.

By Ed Adamczyk
Fort McMurray, Alberta, seen here from a military helicopter above Highway 63, was ablaze on May 5, 2016, two days after the wildfire began. Over 2,400 buildings were destroyed. Residents began returning to the city Wednesday. Photo by MCpl VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/3ce779d31eed1d6823ab89810ce03e93/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Fort McMurray, Alberta, seen here from a military helicopter above Highway 63, was ablaze on May 5, 2016, two days after the wildfire began. Over 2,400 buildings were destroyed. Residents began returning to the city Wednesday. Photo by MCpl VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/UPI | License Photo

FORT MCMURRAY , Alberta, June 1 (UPI) -- Residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who were displaced by a disastrous wildfire in early May are returning to their homes.

The first of 90,000 evacuees returned home after roadblocks were lifted early Wednesday. Their return, part of a phased plan, offered them their first look at the devastation caused by the wildfire.

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"It's eerie coming in. The smell of smoke like wet camp fire. But it's sad because it was just bringing back memories of when we were leaving and everything was up in flames," Candace Carey, a returning resident, said, Global News reported.

An area referred to as Zone One – the neighborhoods of Lower Townsite, Anzac, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation and Gregoire Lake Estates – were available for residents' return Wednesday. About 500 homes in the Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways neighborhoods were declared unsafe; about 9,000 people from those areas will not be permitted to return soon.

RELATED Parts of Alberta oil industry returning to normal after wildfire

A boil-water advisory remains in place, and the province has warned that certain at-risk groups, including those with respiratory problems, should consider staying away longer.

"To residents choosing to return this week, I ask you to not go home without a plan," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said. "Bring food, water and any other supplies needed for the next two weeks."

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About 14,000 people from the city of about 62,000 are expected to drive in to Fort McMurray on Wednesday, said Bob Couture, regional director of emergency operations. The Red Cross is preparing buses to deliver about 2,000 more residents.

RELATED Canadian oil sands cleared for re-entry near fire-ravaged Fort McMurray

The fire, which is still burning in neighboring Saskatchewan province but is not expected to grow, began May 3. It destroyed about 2,400 buildings, and interrupted about one-quarter of Canada's daily oil production.

RELATED Fort McMurray residents eye resettlement plans after devastating wildfire

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