Residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta had their worst dreams realized on May 3rd as an out-of-control wildfire ripped through the city and surrounding area, destroying thousands of homes in its wake.
That Tuesday afternoon, the city was placed under mandatory evacuation with nearly 80,000 people forced to flee from their homes, with warnings, in some cases, of only 30 minutes. As of May 7th, the fire, stretching over 85,000 hectares, had already destroyed over 1,600 structures with another 19,000 structures under threat, officials believe.
“To see the pictures of Fort McMurray right now, that could be taken in a war torn corner of the world instead of our own backyard, is a reminder of how Canadians will and must stand together with our friends and neighbours in this difficult time,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said before the House of Commons on May 5th.
With such little time for people to evacuate, many were forced to leave virtually all of their possessions behind, moving away with nothing. Charities such as the Canadian Red Cross were quick to react to the disaster, taking donations for those affected, that had already totalled $11 million by May 7th.
Trudeau announced that the federal government would match all individual donations made to the Red Cross, which the Alberta Government has also pledged to do.
“I know I speak for all members of this house and 36 million Canadians when I say our hearts go out to all the affected families,” Trudeau said. “We will get through this tragedy together, as friends, as neighbours, as Canadians.”
In the Columbia Valley, local businesses are joining together to do what they can to help their Alberta neighbours. Invermere Home Hardware, for example, is collecting materials to bring to the thousands affected by the tragedy.
Owner Al Miller said the team at Home Hardware held a meeting shortly after the fire broke to discuss if there was any way they would be able to help out.
“It was a quick meeting,” Miller said. “We’ve got the ability to do something here. We’ve got the trucking, the manpower, so between us all we were able to put together a plan to collect the goods and make sure things are trucked up in our own vehicles on our own expenses so that everything we collect will definitely go there.”
Miller and his team at Home Hardware are collecting new clothing, non-perishables, cash and gift certificates, and will personally be delivering it to a location that is best suited for drop-off. He said the decision to help the people of Fort McMurray was an easy one for he and his team.
“We believe, that in a lot of cases, we are the vacation spot for a lot of those people who work there so we believe we have a very close connection,” Miller said, mentioning that he knows a fellow Home Hardware owner in Fort McMurray who was forced to leave his place of business like everyone else.
“Certainly your hearts go out to them and you just suddenly realize that, ‘Hey, we can do something here, we can step up and we can be a part of it’.”
Similar to Home Hardware, the Sobeys grocery store in Invermere is also collecting money and is delivering much-needed supplies to the people of Fort McMurray. The Sobeys chain has also pledged to match all monetary donations to the Red Cross up to $100,000. Real Storage has been collecting toilet paper, personal hygiene items, infant supplies, blankets and towels, as well as footwear and suitcases/backpacks, and items can be dropped off at their site in Windermere. A truck carrying supplies was slated to leave for Edmonton on May 11th.
Global Animal Lovers (GALs), the local not-for-profit organization that advocates for animal safety, have also joined the effort, creating a document located on their Facebook page for people to fill out if they are able to provide emergency animal placement for pets and livestock that currently have no place to go, in support of the Fort McMurray Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, which is working to find homes for animals left behind in the evacuation and reuniting pets with their owners.
Miller said it’s been automatic for people in the valley to help out in supporting Fort McMurray.
“We’ve got a hugely caring community here and with what’s transpired up there, this a huge tragedy for a lot of people,” he said. “People in Invermere and the Columbia Valley have a heart so they’re going to get taken care of. These are our friends and we want to make sure they get taken care of.”