Spirit of Fort McMur­ray

Alberta Oil - - EDITOR’S LOG - NICK WIL­SON nwil­son@al­ber­taoil­magazine.com

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.

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