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The south-east corner of Slave Lake, was destroyed by fires. An aerial view around Slave Lake, Alberta on May 19, 2011. (Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com/Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com)
The south-east corner of Slave Lake, was destroyed by fires. An aerial view around Slave Lake, Alberta on May 19, 2011. (Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com/Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com)

Slave Lake residents will get bus tours of their burned homes Add to ...

Residents of Slave Lake, Alta. will be able to briefly return to their town Monday to view the damage from last weekend's devastating wildfire.

Tom Neufeld, a spokesman for the province's emergency operations centre, said 250 residents will get to tour Slave Lake on the first day, and another 250 the following day.

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After that, Mr. Neufeld said the government will evaluate the situation to determine whether more tours are needed.

The residents will be carried on five buses that will leave from evacuation centres in Edmonton, Westlock and Athabasca.

"Ideally, we'd have more people going up. But right now the safety of residents, and putting out fires and making sure the recovery effort is not disrupted is really paramount," Mr. Neufeld said to The Canadian Press from Edmonton.

The prospect of getting a first-hand look at the damage was welcome news for some evacuees.

Desiree Jemina, a temporary foreign worker from The Philippines who was renting a trailer in Slave Lake, said she is eager to see what condition the trailer is in.

"Even if it's still standing, if it's still livable, or if our things are still worth using. Probably I can go and check," said Ms. Jemina, who has been living in an emergency shelter in nearby Athabasca for the past week.

The province, however, says no one will be allowed to leave the buses for safety reasons.

On Saturday, the province extended the evacuation order for Slave Lake for at least another week. It said it would be unsafe to return until hot spots are extinguished, and every property has been inspected for gas leaks and other damage.

Mr. Neufeld said the buses won't be driving past all the damaged properties, and that the routes they will be taking will be posted online.

He said the residents themselves will have to determine who gets on the buses, a decision he said was made at the advice of local officials.

"We've talked at length about this. What they decided to do was that the displaced residents would prioritize who would go themselves," Mr. Neufeld said.

"The local officials are quite confident they'll be able to organize that."

The wildfire swept through the town a week ago, reducing a third of it to ash and rubble.

The idea of the tours was first presented to residents during meetings with municipal officials on Saturday, and the details were worked out at another meeting Sunday afternoon.

No one under 18 will be allowed on the tour, Mr. Neufeld said, and a faith-based representative will be present on each of the buses.

The Alberta government said this weekend that there are 53 wildfires in the province, 10 of which remain out of control. More than 2,000 personnel currently are fighting the fires, including nearly 500 firefighters from British Columbia and Ontario.

Ms. Jemina said life in the shelter has been hard even though staff and volunteers are extremely generous.

"They're even offering free haircuts, even for dogs and for cats that are here in the centre. But still, it's different because you're not sleeping in your own bed and there's lots of people around so there's really no privacy," she said, her voice raised so that she could be heard over the band that was performing for the shelter residents.

So far, there's been only one death associated with the fires. It happened Friday when a helicopter that was fighting a fire at the summer village of Canyon Creek crashed into Lesser Slave Lake.

The chopper was operated by Campbell Helicopters of Abbotsford, B.C. and had been hired by the Alberta government. The pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash.

In other parts of Alberta, fundraisers were organized over the weekend to help Slave Lake residents.

Promoters of a show in Edmonton on Saturday night by Tracy Morgan, comedian and star of TV's "30 Rock," said that 50 per cent of the proceeds of tickets sold after May 16 would be donated to the Red Cross to help families of Slave Lake.

In some cases donors have driven supplies themselves to emergency shelters, only to find that the shelter already has enough of whatever they've brought.

Sandi Misselbrook, chair of the Non-governmental Organizations Council of Alberta, says it's best if people arrange to bring supplies to their centre in Edmonton so that they can co-ordinate the distribution.

"We are kindly hoping people don't self-deploy. Don't just try to randomly deliver stuff," Ms. Misselbrook said.

Clothing is no longer needed, but insect repellent, diapers and hygiene products would all be welcome, she said.

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