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The devastated neighbourhood of Abasand is shown in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Friday, May 13, 2016. A wildfire left a swath of destruction last week.

JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Construction and cleanup firms are already mobilizing to help rebuild Fort McMurray, Alta., after the wildfires, a monumental effort that's expected to take years.

Ben Dutton at the Casman Group of Companies says he has crews heading up to the major oil sands sites north of the city to help clean up and get ventilation and electrical systems back online.

The CEO of the Fort McMurray-based construction and labour firm says getting oil sands operations running is a key first step to the long-term restoration of the community.

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"The oil sands operations are critical to the existence of Fort McMurray, they're critical to the GDP of Alberta," Mr. Dutton said. "There's a massive industrial commercial enterprise up there that we need to get back online for everyone."

Workers can already start work on the oil sands projects because they were largely untouched by the wildfires. But Mr. Dutton says he thinks it will be weeks before he can get into Fort McMurray to begin the rebuilding process.

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency says 550 staff with utility company Atco have been dispatched to Fort McMurray to restore the critical natural gas, electricity and water infrastructure needed to get the city ready for the bigger cleanup efforts. It's not clear how long it will be before those services are back online.

Spirit Staffing & Consulting is filling about 500 job openings on behalf of a major disaster recovery firm that is getting ready to enter Fort McMurray.

The company hosted a hiring fair in Edmonton this week and about 1,300 people applied for the positions, with another 600 applications coming into their Calgary office, Spirit co-owner Beatrice Floch said.

She said she expects the workers will be among the first allowed into the community once it's deemed safe for non-essential personnel.

Spirit's client, which Ms. Floch declined to name, has already booked 1,400 beds for workers in camps near Fort McMurray, she said.

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Housing workers will be one of the biggest challenges as restoration efforts get fully under way, Mr. Dutton said.

There could be conflicts between those looking for short-term and long-term accommodation, he said, but he's optimistic that will be resolved.

"If people behave rationally, we'll be able to put enough labour on the ground and put in place the necessary infrastructure to sustain that labour on the ground," Mr. Dutton said.

"Hopefully, after 60 days or so, some of the excitement will die down and it will be less about people trying to shoehorn their own commercial interests into the community and we'll actually have a co-ordinated effort to clean up and rebuild."

He said he's pushing the municipal and provincial governments to help co-ordinate who comes into the community and who does what task. That's something Jim Rivait, CEO of the Alberta branch of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, is also advocating for.

"You can't just start 2,000 houses all at once. There's absolutely no way," Mr. Rivait said.

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"It's going to have to be done in some sort of a sequencing, and it's going to have some focus to minimize the number of companies in a particular area at a particular time," Mr. Rivait said. "Otherwise, it will be a free-for-all."

He said there were some failed efforts to co-ordinate the rebuilding of Slave Lake after its disastrous wildfire in May, 2011.

"It didn't work out so well," he said. "It just became everyone for themselves."

He said there needs to be strong leadership from governments to avoid that, as contractors from across Canada look at opportunities in Fort McMurray.

"We've had interest from all over the country," he said. "People calling from Newfoundland and PEI wanting to set up and start building."

Along with co-ordinating efforts, Mr. Rivait said people will have to be patient and realistic about timelines for rebuilding.

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A house takes about six months to build and dealing with insurance companies adds to that timeline, he said.

And before rebuilding starts, the city has to clear the debris from the roughly 2,400 buildings destroyed in the wildfire.

"This is unprecedented," Mr. Rivait said. "That's why the need for communication and co-ordination so important."

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