May 2, 2017
By Janice Biehn
A Statement from the Fire Steering Committee of Fort McMurray
May 3, 2017 marks the one-year anniversary since a wildfire tore through our region forcing our community to be evacuated. Through the generosity of donors, PWRDF received more than $280,000 in response to the Fort McMurray wildfires. Our committee was thus formed with the mandate to identify projects and activities to support individuals and the community.
On behalf of our community, the Fire Steering Committee wishes to thank each and every donor for the thoughtfulness and compassion shown to our community. As well, we wish to assure donors that their donation will be thoughtfully spent with the vision, mission and strategic plan of the PWRDF in mind.
To that end, we are mindful of PWRDF’s history. In 1958, an underground explosion in a coal mine in Springhill, Nova Scotia, killed 75 men. This devastation had, of course, rippling effects on the families of those men and their community. As a result of this experience, the church recognized the need for an efficient process to channel assistance quickly in situations of emergency and help the stricken families.
Some 58 years later, another devastating disaster occurred, this time on the opposite side of the country, in Fort Mac. PWRDF acted swiftly to organize the Fire Steering Committee and, the Fire Steering Committee in turn acted immediately to identify those most in need. However, unlike the relatively small community of Springhill, N.S. in 1958, Fort McMurray in 2016 is home to approximately 80,000 people. Identifying those most in need poses some challenges. While we have identified many, there are some, no doubt, whom we have missed. For this reason, we expect the need in this area to continue and have set aside a portion of the donations to meet that need as it arises.
In addition to tending to the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, we supported On Eagle’s Wings and St. James Anglican Church with providing to our community two camps last summer that engaged children in activities such as crafts and Bible lessons. The volunteers at the camps were sensitive to the fact that, just a few months before, the children were displaced from their homes. They spoke to the children about the wildfire and patiently allowed them to express themselves as children would. Both camps were much appreciated and well attended.
When the fire reached residential areas, it moved swiftly. Many animals, especially cats, tend to find small crevices in which to hide in times of distress. Some people found that there simply was not enough time to locate their distressed pet with the fire at their doorstep. Others were at work 50 to 75 kilometers from town and unable to return to their homes. The Fire Steering Committee supported a Pet Blessing Ceremony that was held last fall at All Saints Parish and conducted by both Rev. Christopher Tapera and Rev. Dane Neufeld. There were about 50 people in attendance with 28 animals (27 dogs and one cat). The ceremony also allowed those that lost their pet to say goodbye to a family friend. We would like to support the Pet Blessing ceremony this year to allow those that could not participate last year.
Some schools were severely damaged by the smoke and debris from the wildfire. Two did not re-open. The Fire Steering Committee identified the schools most in need and approached the schools to ascertain in what way we would be able to help.
Taking their suggestions to heart, the Fire Steering Committee approached PWRDF to provide financial assistance to teachers so they may be able to buy supplies and equipment that were severely damaged.
We understand from the lessons learned after the 2013 fire of Slave Lake, Alberta, that recovery can take anywhere from 18 months to three years. We are mindful also of PWRDF’s recognition that long-term development needs are strongly connected to the suffering caused by natural or human-provoked disasters. For this reason, our Committee is committed to supporting our community as it begins to rebuild.
In the coming months, we will be partnering with organizations to complete projects that aim to support our community as it begins to heal. We wish to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the kindness and generosity of the donors who have helped make all of these efforts possible.