May 11th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 19
Fort McMurray fire: Pass residents rush to help evacuees
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ezra Black Photo
Luca Canderan and Claudia van der Veen sold baked goods and lemonade on May 6 in Frank with proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross (Fort McMurray). They raised $170. Along with federal and provincial fundraising matches these girls helped out in a huge way.
Pass Herald Reporter
“My brother’s house is gone.”

Crowsnest resident Steve Atkinson sat on the grass in a Blairmore park, his wife Jessica and their children playing on a jungle gym a few metres away. It was unseasonably hot and sunny as Steve spoke about his brother Murray who lost his home in Fort McMurray to wildfire last week.

Murray Atkinson’s home was in the Abasand Heights neighbourhood of the city. Photographs posted to the web by a neighbour show all that’s left of the property: a burnt out gazebo.

Murray was running a stucco company that employed up to 25 people during the boom times but Steve said that number has been reduced to four with the 2014 collapse in the price of crude.

“And then this happens,” said Steve. “It was the worst case scenario.”

Murray, his wife Amber and their two children have been safely evacuated to the tiny hamlet of Long Lake but “they are literally with nothing,” said Steve. Two residents in the Pass have already offered to temporarily house Murray and his family.

Crowsnest residents know a thing or two about the dangers of wildfire – in 2003, the whole community almost went up in smoke when the Lost Creek Fire burned through 20,000 hectares of wooded hillsides and forced the evacuation of two towns.

In a televised press conference on the Fort McMurray fire, Chad Morrison, Alberta’s wildfire manager, said cooler weather over the weekend could curtail the size of the massive wildfire, nicknamed “the beast” to under 200,000 hectares, an area about twice the size of Calgary. An estimated 2,400 structures have been destroyed. More than 80,000 people fled their homes. A Bank of Montreal analyst said the fire could cost insurers up to $9 billion.
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As they witnessed images of fire ravaged neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, Crowsnest residents of all ages began offering their homes, supplies and hard earned cash to make sure their fellow Albertans get back on their feet.

On May 6, little Luca Canderan and Claudia Vanderven were selling lemonade and baked goods in Frank and raised $170, to be donated to the Red Cross.

During the annual Strawberry Tea at the Bellevue Seniors’ Centre, Jerrie Keohane and Marry Ann Misseghers were selling strawberry shortcake, marshmallow pie and other treats to raise money for evacuees.

One senior spoke proudly of her son-in-law who’d been called up to Fort McMurray to get communications infrastructure, destroyed by fire, back up and running.

“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “We’re worried about him being up there.”
Former Crowsnest resident Ty Tracey spent most of his grade school years in Fort McMurray. He spent the better part of last week collecting items from a list of what evacuees were in need of including clothes and toiletries. He was able to fill up the back and most of the bed of his father’s four-door pickup with donations from a number of people, including Crowsnest residents, and delivered them to Calgary.

“The opportunity to finally be able to do something on my end to help people was a priceless feeling. It's an extremely rough time and it really hit home,” said Tracey.

May 7 was FireSmart Canada’s second annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. The idea behind the event is for communities across the country to learn how to prevent fires from starting, as well as how to reduce the risk of wildfires.
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In Blairmore, Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue observed the occasion with an open house. About a dozen people attended, some of them threw their loose change and bills destined to help the wildfire victims into a rubber boot.

Deputy chief Curtis Stevens said the Fire/Rescue service has offered to send two brush trucks and crews to help fight the fires around Fort McMurray and that the community’s firefighters are on the deployment list with the Provincial Operations Centre.

An operational plan has been developed to ensure adequate coverage for the Crowsnest Pass is maintained.

“We’re anticipating a busy wildfire season,” said Stevens. “That looming risk is always there.”

Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue has been gearing up in the event of a wildfire in the Pass.

Council approved an eight-month term of employment starting March 1 for a four-member FireSmart task force.

Wildfire technologist Brad McKenzie citied data collected by government agencies, including Environment Canada, that shows Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and the Porcupine Hills received well below the usual level of snowfall this winter.

“This is an El Niño year,” he said. “The forecast and the trend has been less precipitation and higher temperatures and we’ve been seeing that.”
May 11th ~ Vol. 85 No. 19
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