Don­ning red vest to help fire vic­tims

The Barrie Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - CHERYL BROWNE

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.

MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

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.

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