For my wife and I and so many thousands of others May 3, 2016 would suddenly become one of the worst and most frightening days of our lives. In the morning we were happily packing our suitcases and really looking forward to heading to the airport to catch a flight to Fort McMurray to visit our family, and then the phone rang.
It was our son Kevin, who was perched on the roof of their new truck/car wash at the west end of Fort Mac and very loudly and explicitly explained to us that we should cancel our flight because the wildfire that started on Sunday night was now completely out of control and heading at a great pace for the city. Needless to say, for the rest of that horrific day most of the residents of our province, the nation, and the world were glued to their T.V. sets, radios, phones, and all the rest watching what would later be called ‘The Beast’ threatening that entire northern community. By 6:49 p.m. a state of emergency and total evacuation of the total population of 88,000 people was declared, with most of those frantic souls having to dash from their homes with only the clothes on their backs and a few precious belongings.
Of course everyone now knows the rest of that devastating story, as for the next few weeks the largest and most dangerous wildfire in Canada’s history ravaged it’s powerful path of destruction over 5,986 kilometres (1,500,000 acres) of boreal forest before being tamed somewhere in Saskatchewan later in the summer. The aftermath of the disaster left 2,400 homes and businesses destroyed, overwhelming damage and devastation in many areas, and repair and rebuild costs that are now over $10 billion dollars and growing. Through all the panic of that sudden and massive evacuation out of the city it was a miracle and a blessing that no lives were lost, but sadly two residents were killed in a later accident. The immediate response to the Fort McMurray fire from our province, our Canada, and so many others was totally overwhelming, as hundreds of emergency and disaster personnel, equipment, and planes were dispersed to fight the blaze and tend to the many other vital tasks that would need attention.
At the same time kindly donations of money and assistance began to pour in from far and wide, and preparations were being made across the province to accommodate and assist the thousands of evacuees of all ages and all walks of life. Throughout Alberta there was also the government and many clubs, organizations, businesses, and individuals working 24-7 to secure the many tons of food, clothes, and other supplies as well as the volunteers that would be required to keep the evacuees safe and comfortable and safe for as long as they would be away from their homes.
It was with great joy that we were finally able to fly up to see our Fort Mac family for Christmas, and although the final approach to the city revealed thousands of acres of burnt and black forest, the cold but clear sky was mirrored with countless plumes of smoke from all the plants that were up and running, and of course the warm welcome at the gate was great. Thankfully the home of our son and daughter-in-law in Beacon Hill was slightly damaged but survived, and while our grandson and his wife lost theirs, it will be rebuilt along with many thousands of others this spring as they all bravely face so many ongoing challenges.
As we drove around the area there were still so many signs of severe destruction and damaged homes, but there was also a great deal of new construction and all sorts of temporary trailers and living quarters. Along the way the roads were lined with lots of bright and heartfelt and very positive signage that proclaimed Fort McMurray as ‘Being back home and strong’ as well as proclaiming their sincere appreciation for the extreme and overwhelming support that they have received from so many wonderful people when they needed it the most. Meanwhile, out in the blackened forest the tiny green tree sprouts were already reaching out for a new life and future. We should always be very proud and praised that we will never hesitate to reach out from the heart and help those who are in need. Have a great week, all of you.