If you hadn’t heard much about Fort McMurray before, you know it well now. This region of western Canada has been under siege from spreading, uncontrolled forest fires – and it’s been in news all over the world. The stats are shocking. More than 80,000 people have been displaced from their homes, some initially to oilsands work camps up north because they had nowhere else to go. Many folks drove out of the city using sidewalks or wrong-way lanes just to put a bit more distance between their vehicles and the flying sparks of fire. Tragically, two people were killed in a road accident while trying to leave the city. About 1,600 buildings – mostly people’s houses – burned to the ground. Insurers say they’ve never seen a level of damage like this before – over 9 billion dollars’ worth, by one estimate. The narrative changes daily. As of Sunday, fire covered 161,000 hectares. That’s almost half the size of Long Island, New York.
Evacuees are telling stories that will make you cry: Pets lost to the fires. Family heirlooms and precious photos, gone forever. An iPhone security video of a living room becoming destroyed by flames and smoke. The homeowner watched it happen, live, soon after escaping with his wife.
But, of course, there are stories of compassion as well. So many touching accounts of people reaching out to those in need.
Like the group of Syrian refugees who leapt into rescue mode, collecting donations despite having almost nothing themselves, and telling media: “It’s not easy to lose everything… We can understand them more than anyone in Canada.”
Or the volunteer who retrieved dozens of stranded pets from abandoned houses – including a family’s cherished puppy and pet rabbit mere moments before their home caught fire. (He would have located the house much faster, had the street signs not melted.)
Or the sweet video created by caring students at Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School, in Loon Lake, Saskatchewan, who wanted to send messages of support so the disaster victims would know they’re not alone.
And, of course, we’ve seen the rise of countless fundraising campaigns all over the country, giving every one of us an opportunity to help.
My heart goes out to all those who are displaced or struggling with devastating losses right now. But my heart is also gladdened to know how much it matters to everyone else.