People Rush to Aid Fort McMurray Fire Evacuees

May 4, 2016 10:56 pm Last Updated: May 5, 2016 7:59 pm

EDMONTON—When Char Kaye saw fire ravaging Fort McMurray on the news from the safety and comfort of her home near Edmonton, she told herself she had to do something to help.

She bought deodorant and toothbrushes, packed up toys and blankets, then took to social media and offered up her home to strangers.

“The hand that feeds us is the oil industry and I know Fort McMurray plays a gigantic part in the economy,” Kaye said Wednesday, May 4, from her house in Spruce Grove.

“They need everything they can get and watching it literally go up in flames is just devastating.”

People have been opening their homes, cupboards, and wallets for fire evacuees from Fort McMurray since the city’s 80,000 residents were told to flee Tuesday.

Social media is rife with offers of free meals, tire repairs, pet food, and even graduation gowns for high school students who have lost theirs in the fire.

Some fitness centres are letting evacuees use their showers. U-Haul has offered of a month of storage and boxes. Labatt Breweries says it will donate 69,000 cans of drinking water, and has 131,000 more at the ready if needed.

The Red Cross says it’s ramping up its call centre to deal with a flood of monetary donations, which includes money from companies such as Shaw Communications, Canadian National, and Manulife.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government announced it will match donations to the Red Cross in support of the people of Fort McMurray, as well as provide $2 million in seed money to kickstart operations.

Thousands are staying in evacuation centres and northern work camps. But many people have listed their homes and spare rooms on social media, along with their outdoor space for evacuees who want to set up camp.

Some facilities, including the Green Dome mosque in Calgary, have also opened the doors and offered shelter for however long they might need.

Mike Ryan and several friends from the Edmonton area loaded their pickups with jerry cans and larger slip tanks full of fuel to help evacuees who ran out and became stranded on the side of Highway 63 south of Fort McMurray.

“We drove all night,” Ryan said, adding his convoy has so far helped dozens of people, including two pregnant women in a car that had run empty.

Zakk Baltgailis, a heavy equipment technician at United Rentals in Fort Saskatchewan, said his company sent two fuel tankers with a group of other volunteers in pickups packed with fuel, bottled water, diapers, apples and granola bars.

“It shows that we’re Canadians and we’re a community. And in times of these events and disasters, we can all team together.”

A local disaster for Maritimers

The Fort McMurray wildfire feels like a local disaster for Atlantic Canadians, who have spent anxious hours waiting for word on family and friends.

Much of the Fort Mac workforce comes from the east coast, and there are few Atlantic Canadians who aren’t close to someone who lives there, or have lived there themselves.

“It’s just devastating. My stomach is just in knots even thinking about it out there,” said Jeremy Douthwright, who worked in Fort McMurray for three years before returning to New Brunswick a year ago to run an auto repair shop.

“I talked to my old roommates that I lived with just about a year ago in Beacon Hill and that house is gone. All of Beacon Hill is gone,” he said.

Social media on the East Coast is buzzing with comments from people shocked by the pictures, videos, and stories coming out of Alberta as the flames continue to burn.

Others were making contact with loved ones affected by the fire.

“My family there have lost everything. My heart is breaking for everyone there,” wrote one woman from Dartmouth, N.S.

It has been said that Fort McMurray is Newfoundland and Labrador’s second-largest city, and one columnist suggested you could say the same about Cape Breton.

On May 4, Newfoundland Premier Randy Ball said from St. John’s: “The wildfire that is currently raging in Alberta and those impacted, including the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living and working there, are foremost in our thoughts today.”

“Although these events are taking place in Alberta, the effects are being felt in every community on Prince Edward Island,” P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan said in the legislature.

Added New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant: “Historically, our two provinces have had an important relationship and many New Brunswickers who reside or have family there have been directly impacted by this event. We are concerned for their safety.”

From The Canadian Press