As the recovery is just beginning for the City of Fort McMurray, a Ponoka business tried to do its part to help some of those evacuated to recover and heal from what they are going through.
Altitude Laser Spa owner Kim Green and all 17 of her staff volunteered their time and services to a few women that are staying in central Alberta after being forced out of their homes two weeks ago in Alberta’s largest evacuation ever by one of the biggest wildfires the province has seen in its history.
The spa opened its doors on Sunday, May 15 to six women who were nominated by an individual for a full day spa treatment that was completely donated by Green and everyone of her employees.
The goal was to give the women a chance to relax and let go of the stress that’s been a part of their lives since having to leave Fort McMurray.
“The idea came from Victoria Rose, one of the massage therapists here, as a way to give some of the mother’s who have had to relocate something for Mother’s Day,” Green said.
“I was so impressed with my entire team that volunteered their day and those that couldn’t, helped out in other ways to make this day special.”
Green explained there was a process to selecting those deserving individuals, which was done through social media.
“We reached out through our social media to let people know we were doing this and asked people to nominate those women. We then reached out and contacted six women in the area, who accepted the offer,” she said, adding one wasn’t able to make it due to a family illness though Green is hoping to be able to have the woman come another time.
“The spa industry has changed, it isn’t about luxury anymore. It’s more about stress reduction, relaxing and rejuvenation, giving them an escape from having to handle what they’ve been going through.”
And it was certainly appreciated by the women, three of whom wanted to talk about the day’s experience and what it means to them.
Tina and her husband are staying in Ponoka with some friends after evacuating their home in the Prairie Creek neighbourhood at the south end of the city. While her husband was recently called back to work at the Imperial Oil Kearl Lake Oilsands facility, Tina is so glad to have come to Ponoka.
“What this town has done is just phenomenal. We’ve been overwhelmed with the support from the community, they filled our friend’s garage a few times over,” she said, adding her friends have made a few trips to the northern evacuation centres with some of the supplies that have been donated.
“We just want this to be enough and get back to a more normal everyday life and this day helps. We are just waiting because we will go back and we’re one of the lucky ones as we know our place is still standing.”
One thing Tina knows, though, is that it could be more weeks or months before they are allowed home.
“We just have to hold out until they let us go back and I feel so welcomed here I might just apply for a job in town since I’m not used to figuring out what to do during the day.”
Another woman though isn’t so fortunate, as Nicole and her family lost their home in Waterways though they were able to save some possessions and some animals to bring to some property they have near Wetaskiwin. She had only a few minutes to gather up items along with food and water, managing to get the help of a neighbour to reach a nearby fire hall.
“We stuck together and I rode my horse down to the river and you could see the area half engulfed, hearing the roar of the fire, covered in soot,” she said.
It took about three days, she added, to get the soot out of her hair and off her skin, so the spa treatment was a welcome distraction. However, she and her husband are continuing to help their community by providing space at their property to other evacuees for themselves and animals.
The last evacuees not only lost her home in the Abasand area, but wasn’t even able to save any precious items.
Emma, who is 32 weeks pregnant, and her husband were on their way to her hometown of Penhold when the evacuation occurred, meaning they lost everything from mementos to clothes bought and given for their first child.
“This day means a lot, people willing to help out others. It’s a different feeling entirely, losing everything without even a chance to go back,” she said.
“The only thing I wish is that my husband could have a day like this, since he is taking the brunt of this and is really stressed.”