Spirit of Fort McMurray
THE PAST MONTH HAS SHOWN US A
lot of tragedy, compassion, hope and pride. Oil workers and environmentalists, easterners and westerners, urbanites and rural dwellers, and politicians of all stripes have rallied around Fort McMurray in the wake of the wildfires that ravaged the Canadian oil town. Neighbors risked their lives helping one another. Aid poured in from across the country. Albertans on the other side of the province threw open their doors to evacuees. The individual stories of tragedy, loss and sacrifice, heroism and the kindness of strangers tell the tale of the whole—the spirit of Fort McMurray.
The blaze inadvertently took a firefighter’s daughter. Cranley Ryan, the deputy fire chief for Saprae Creek in Wood Buffalo, lost his 16-year-old Emily, a triplet, in a car crash while fleeing the flames. There could be no greater heart-rending loss for a man who chose a profession that puts his own life on the front line to rescue others. Her stepmother, Melanie, posted a photo of the family on her Facebook page with the message, “No words can be found, just precious memories. Please pray for our family today. Our hearts are broken.” Emily was with Aaron Hodgson, who also died in the crash involving a tractor-trailer just after the two had escaped the flames.
When Chris Burrows’s neighbor saw a 100-meter high wall of flames bearing down on their two homes, instead of fleeing, he tried to enter Burrows’s house to wake him. They both escaped their homes that are now ashes.
Paul Spring and his staff used their helicopter fleet to rescue people, until the flames reached their hangar, forcing them to flee, themselves, by road. They didn’t have time to fill up their tanks and soon ran out of fuel. A man approached and said, “Can I give you guys anything? You saved me yesterday—me and my family.” One of Spring’s helicopters had rescued them, including eight children, from a house cut off by fire. The man filled Spring’s tanks with 400 liters of fuel—for free, which is exactly how Spring provided his impromptu rescue service. They continued piloting seven helicopters round the clock from a work camp further south taking the sick and infirm to an oil sands operator’s airport. From there they went to hospitals in Edmonton or Calgary. Spring and several staff members lost their homes to the flames.
AFD Petroleum offered free gas to motorists who made it to its camp at Mariana Lake, south of the city. They helped day and night until the fuel ran out—unable to get more due to traffic restrictions. The Fort McKay First Nation, about 60 kilometers north of Fort McMurray, housed evacuees in camp lodges until the lodges were filled beyond capacity. And still they kept helping and giving. Syncrude sent its fire truck into the city, CNRL supplied aircraft.
There are too many stories of selfless actions of individuals and organizations to tell. No one has charged a cent for any service given. This is the proud but silent spirt of Fort McMurray.