Found In The Fire
Fire damages. Fire destroys. Fire devastates.
As the wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray has moved away from our communities, it continues to consume the Boreal forest. The size is staggering, at over 500,000 hectares, a month later it has not been extinguished.
People have lost—homes, vehicles, belongings, a sense of safety and security—treasured irreplaceable items as well as replaceable items. As Lucas Welsh posted in his heart-warming post titled 88,000, it has been a time of polarized emotions. I can certainly relate. There is severe loss, yet I have “found” and witnessed so much more.
Yes, grieving the loss is necessary and important and will continue to weave through the weeks and months ahead. Another part of the healing process is finding the “good” or the light in the darkness of this catastrophic event.
What we have found in this fire will burn long after the last flame has been extinguished. The purest and richest of human virtues have emerged in epic proportions. It’s profound. It is powerful, and yes sometimes it is overwhelming—in a way that makes my eyes leak and my heart soar.
Courage and Strength I observed the collective courage of people, not only in the early hours of evacuation when the threat and danger was prominent, but in the many days after, as displaced residents adapted to unfamiliar surroundings and uncertainty about the future. My heart is especially touched by the strength of the spouses and families who had to flee, separated from their family members who stayed behind to fight The Beast, as our Fire Chief, Darby Allen accurately described it. The epitome of courage and strength in my books!
The stories of courage and strength will continue to surface and be remembered long after the crisis has passed.
Compassion and kindness The gestures of kindness, generosity and compassion are all expressions of love. In a time when fear is naturally present, the light of these acts of love overshadow the darkness. As I reflect on the weeks past, I recalled several moments that touched me deeply.
Three young men stood in the food line ahead of us at the Fort McKay Band Office. Volunteers had put together an impromptu BBQ to feed the masses of exhausted evacuees taking refuge for the night. When these three got to the front, they stopped, saw that supplies were running low and stepped away, stating “there are kids and families that need this more than us—let them eat.” I appreciated their sacrifice so that my children could be fed.
Evacuation centres popped up quickly around the province, overflowing with donations of food, household items, and clothes, not only Albertans but from across Canada. I am especially proud of some of the young people we know—our nephew Daniel and his girlfriend Ashley who tirelessly worked to collect and unload donations at Wandering River, as well as buying vast amounts of food for a BBQ to feed thousands of people. And, two young men—Justin and Jon, who grew up in Fort McMurray, took the day from work to transport fuel from Bonnyville, helping stranded motorists with no expectation of payment—it was simply “what we needed to do.” stepping in without question to help strangers.
In the early hours after we had slept one night in our vehicle, we made it to the small village of Plamondon where the local co-op had been open for 24 hours ensuring the evacuees had access to supplies. When I thanked a women for volunteering to bag groceries for patrons, she touched my arm and replied, “this is nothing compared to what you are going through.” A moment of pure love and compassion.
Connection People who collectively experience an event of this magnitude have a sense of camaraderie or bonding, like nothing that they would experience in day-to-day living. In that same grocery store in Plamondon, when asked, “paper or plastic?” the lady responded, “Oh I brought my own bags!” Another customer and I had a chuckle together as we recognized one of our own from home. And yes, I may not have had time to get much out of my house but we managed to escape with our rather large collection of reusable grocery bags.
Not only is there a connection between all the evacuees, I have found throughout our 28 days of displacement, interactions with hundreds of Albertans who stepped up and volunteered, or served us in retail stores, or waited on us in a restaurant or bank. While the rest of Alberta hosted us in their cities and towns they got to experience the richest resource of the Canadian Oil Sands—the people. And perhaps we were not at our best, more fatigued, frazzled, and frustrated than normal, but you graciously accepted us with open arms. For that I say thank you on behalf of all of us.
It is those small moments of courage, compassion, and connection that stays with me and soothes my soul—as a reminder of what was found in the fire: the embers of human spirit and love burning bright!