It’s been 5 days since we’ve been forced to evacuate from our homes and our city – 5 very long and hard days. Most of us have been watching the news in horror as more pictures come in from the fires still raging up north and what remains of the fire ravaged neighbourhoods we left behind. With all of the press still focused on the sensationalized reports of doom and gloom, it becomes incredibly difficult to maintain a positive outlook and spirit. My posts these last few days haven’t exactly been the brightest or cheeriest either. Despite this, today is a new day and I felt it was time for a change in perspective.
There have been so many negative stories over the last few days that it becomes rather easy for the positive stories to get lost. Yes, we all know that the fires are still burning and that there is quire a bit of damage. But is this really all there is?
As most of the Fort McMurray refugees have been doing over the last couple of days, I have spent a good portion of my time browsing through social media to see updates and reports of the home we left behind. There are still multiple pictures of ruin and fire that I would rather never see again. These posts, while telling, make me feel more and more ill as each day passes. I’ve had enough of these to last me a life time……maybe even two. However, there have been a few posts that seems to have slipped through the cracks – these are the ones that I would like to share with you now.
The first thing I would like to bring attention to is that it officially rained in Fort McMurray today. It’s long overdue and didn’t last very long, but to be honest I will take whatever bone mother nature is willing to throw at this point. Of course, it will take a significant amount of rain to smother The Beast as it continues to burn, but any rain is better than none. I take this as a sign of things to come.
Since my last post, I have been able to get together with a lot of my friends from town. While there have been no fatalities directly linked to the fire (as of yet), and I know that they were safe, seeing their faces for the first time since being evacuated has been a whole range of emotions. I have never been happier to see them and just being able to hang out with them, no matter how brief, has been a huge relief. On Friday evening we managed to simultaneously celebrate the birthday of the magnificent Michelle Thorne and see the amazing Hanna Fridhed and her husband, Kyle, be reunited. Its an odd mix – a reminder of what we have endured as well as a touch of normalcy we have all been craving.
I’ve recently learned that Chris Byrne from Rock 97.9 FM is back in Fort McMurray. He and an engineer went in, with permission and strict guidelines from the RCMP and emergency services, to reestablish the radio station and start transmitting again. It was decided that this move would assist with the rebuild of infrastructure and, if nothing else, give the emergency crews in the area something to listen to. As it turns out though, it’s reported he only had the station’s backup iPod which contains a list of 25 songs. It’s possible he may be in more danger from his audience when they’ve heard the same song 30 times in a single day. Despite this, I see a dedicated set of individuals who are set on assisting with the current situation and the beginning of rebuilding efforts going forward.
Ashley Laurenson has been very busy since the evacuation. She has put together a t-shirt campaign born out of the #MayTheFortBeWithYou hashtag. With the help of Sithara Fernando, the campaign aims to raise funds for the Red Cross in support of those displaced by the fires in Fort McMurray. These shirts can be ordered on the Etsy store and will also be available at the May the Fort Be With You BBQ on May 14th here in Edmonton. Details can be found on their Facebook page and on Etsy. I am not ashamed at all to admit that I have pre-ordered my t-shirts – see you all at the BBQ!
For me, there is one story that sticks out above the rest – that of Lee Ellis and Terry Cyr. I do not know either of them personally, and I’m uncertain of what the full story is. What I do know is that when the mandatory evacuation order was announced, they stayed behind. While this is a technically a big no no, there is a silver lining to this story. Lee and Terry made the most of their time and began rescuing stray and stranded pets. I have heard multiple stories regarding people who stayed behind simply because they believed they were not in any danger. Usually I am opposed to people with this mentality. If you have been ordered to evacuate, there is usually an extremely good reason for it. If you decide to stay, then you are not only putting yourself at risk, but then also distracting and endangering the lives of the fire fighters, police and other service members who have stayed behind to do their jobs. In this case, I applaud the efforts of both gentlemen ensuring that these animals were sheltered, watered and fed. In some cases it’s been days since these animals have had anything to eat or drink. They must be tired and frightened. In addition, they have been providing video footage and pictures of neighbourhoods as they have been travelling around in an effort to provide people with up-to-date information about the status of their homes. RCMP and Emergency services personnel can only do so much. The SPCA, in conjunction with Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, is equally busy doing everything they can to ensure that pets are saved and reunited with their owners. Both Lee and Terry have since left the city, but their legacy endures and they have left a list with SPCA and RMWB to ensure that the animals are cared for.
These are only a few of the stories that I have been hearing out of Fort McMurray. I will continue to post them as they unfold and reveal themselves. The last time I posted, I made a comment about how the people are what makes the city – not the buildings. I feel these stories and people show this comment in action. In disasters like this, it can be very easy to focus on the negative things. Sometimes you have to stop, take a breath and look at the good things that are happening around you.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
2 thoughts on “Tales from the North: We are the City”
Thank you Chris for all this! I have been glued to the TV and radio news reports for the past week but this is so personal and really filled with resilience and hope. Thank you again. It has been very stressful being Diana’s mother and your in-law (sounds so much less than what I feel for you) but nothing compared to what you and so many others have been going through.
What a fantastic community! I am proud to have met a few of you.