On May 1st 2016 Wood Buffalo County and Fort McMurray Alberta experienced one of the most devastating and tragic fires in the history of the province of Alberta. The fire started south of the Fort McMurray on May 1, and escalated into a inferno of epic proportions, devouring anything in its path as it grew towards the city.
The next day the fire began to spread into the city and just two days later as over 2,400 homes and business premises were consumed by the flame. Over 88,000 persons had to be evacuated (some of whom had less than an hour of warning) to relief centres in nearby cities including Lac La Biche and Edmonton. Monday night’s evacuation also consisted of 8,000 oil field workers heading to other oil sands facilities that weren’t being threatened by the fire.
It became apparent that these victims/evacuees would need a significant supply of essential goods including refreshments, clothing and everyday essentials items. Volunteers from the Rapid Relief Team in both Edmonton and Calgary quickly stepped up to the task. The volunteers began their first few hours by gathering pallet loads of supplies and van loads of enthusiastic volunteers to start the 218km journey to Lac La Biche to provide relief to evacuees stationed at the Bold Centre.
The volunteers arrived at the Centre just after 11:00pm and toiled through the night unloading supplies, sorting donated clothing items, cleaning and sanitizing areas to prevent infection, and providing assistance where ever they were needed.
After the volunteer’s efforts were completed in Lac La Biche they headed back to Edmonton and set up food tents at the Edmonton Emergency Relief Centre and the Edmonton International Airport. RRT dispersed thousands of hot dogs, water bottles and sandwiches to the evacuees and volunteers to help tie them over until they could get back home again.
With the help of hundreds of firefighters from Mexico and South Africa, in accordance with the military efforts, they had the fire slowly but surely decreasing in size. Overall the 2016 Fort McMurray Fire, also known as the Horse River Fire has burned approximately 589,552 hectares or 1,456,810 acres of Alberta and Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. The fire destroyed 665 work camp units. The main oil sand plants have very large fuel and vegetation breaks that are very resilient to wildfires but the industry firefighting resources were still ready if need be. Thankfully there were no fatalities directly as a result of the fire.
Even though the fire had not been fully contained, it had moved into non populated areas of the Providences and the citizens have been able to move back into their homes. As soon as the water and electricity supply was reconnected once again, contractors were hired to come in and start reconstruction and clear out the rubble that was left. Structural assessments were effectively completed on 19,000 buildings and 89% proved safe to occupy and only 10% had been destroyed, which was slightly more optimistic than what the evacuees had been expecting when they returned.
In the midst of such a horrific disaster, the RRT Volunteers were glad for an opportunity to provide some relief to those in need and if the need arises again they will be on standby.