Donning red vest to help fire victims
As Kevin Burke prepares to leave for British Columbia today, he’s remembering what the Fort McMurray fire in Alberta was like last summer.
Since the turn of the century, the Canadian Red Cross volunteer has become a veteran of many of North America’s worst natural disasters.
“Fort Mac was very emotional, even for the volunteers,” Burke said outside the Red Cross office on Cedar Pointe Drive in Barrie on Wednesday.
“Even now, when they smell smoke, they get nervous,” he said, a slight Newfoundland accent still evident after a few dozen years in Ontario.
Burke will be the only Canadian Red Cross volunteer from Ontario heading west to assist with the logistics of offering aid to what Emergency Management in B.C. estimates are 14,000 people who’ve been evacuated due to approximately 220 active wild fires.
Canadian Red Cross volunteers like Burke will be on the ground in central British Columbia doling out hundreds of cots, blankets, food supplies, water and hygiene products to the evacuees.
“When you put the red vest on, you change. I see the compassion come out in people when they put that vest on – they just want to help people,” he said.
Last year, Burke spent two months in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, helping about 900 people settle into the University of Alberta for a two-month stay after wild fires destroyed much of the northern Alberta town.
“Right in the city, they were telling us the heat on the road was so intense they were afraid to touch the glass in their vehicles because they’d burn their skin,” he said.
As an ex-military mechanic, Burke now works at Barrie Chrysler when he’s in Barrie, which isn’t often. This year, he’s already been in Manitoba, northern Ontario and Ottawa to assist with people evacuated due to heavy flooding.
Canadian Red Cross spokesman Peter McGuinness said more volunteers from Ontario may be sent west if the weather doesn’t improve.
Dry lightning storms are being blamed for the surge in wild fires during the last two days.
“We expect the number (of volunteers) will continue to rise as conditions continue to deteriorate,” McGuiness said.
The retired OPP officer said he was stuck on a northern Ontario reserve near Kenora for 10 days when forest fires surrounded the community years ago.
“I was amazed how fast those fires travel. Just seeing it going from tree to tree and then, whoosh. It makes you appreciate those firefighters work very hard,” he said.
Now as a volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross, McGuinness said its volunteers in B.C. are providing registration services to the province and helping keep track of people and reuniting families who were separated when they were evacuated whenever they can.
McGuinness is hoping to spread the word about how Ontarians can help residents in B.C. by donating to the Red Cross B.C. appeal.
He said 95% of money raised by the Canadian Red Cross is donated to the people who need it: 5% is used for administrative costs.
To donate, visit http://bit. ly/2t50NHs, call 1-800-418-1111 or text the word FIRES to number 45678 to have $10 added to your phone bill.
Canadian Red Cross logistics co-ordinator Kevin Burke, a Barrie resident, will be heading west today in an effort to lend a hand with the wild-fire situation in British Columbia, which has resulted in more than 15,000 people being displaced so far.