The reign of the “Beast,” a Canada wildfire that caused the immediate evacuation of 80,000 people in Fort McMurray, may almost be over.
Government officials are working alongside nongovernmental organization (NGO) council leaders, including Canadian National Baptist and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief as well as The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham organization leaders and volunteers to speed the safe return of Fort McMurray residents. For the wildfire refugees escaping to the nearby city of Edmonton, the news of future re-entry brings relief.
“The government leaders have accomplished amazing work,” said Mickey Caison. Caison serves as the executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR). “The government is working with vendors to prepare stores, restaurants and people for public re-entry starting June 1. They’re protecting the community, now, and working diligently to make it safe for residents to go back to their homes, later.”
Fort McMurray’s prolific oil reserves, which were once the city’s major source of the income, had quickly become a breeding ground for the inferno that began in early May. While Canadian officials continue their assessment of infrastructure damage to Fort McMurray this week, SBDR leaders will remain in Edmonton on standby to offer help to the Canadian NGO Council, which coordinates nonprofit activity in disasters.
“Right now, the major challenges are finding where all the evacuees can bathe, eat and sleep,” Caison said. “We are working to establish sites in the community that meet all these needs. We’ve reached out to the Home Depot Pro Desk in Edmonton, as well as Sysco Foods. We are also researching purchasing a tent to house volunteers since we are expecting around 30 more here by midweek.”
According to Caison, utilities in the community – the cluster in Edmonton where evacuees are temporarily residing – are up and running, and a “boil water order” is in place.
“Green arm bands allow access to the community, where you can stay 24-7,” Caison said. “The Regional Emergency Operational Center (REOC) is providing three meals a day and late night snacks for emergency personnel and volunteers.”
Government officials and all NGO volunteers’ dedication to the safety and support of Fort McMurray residents are not the only factors contributing to a swift re-entry. The weather also appears to be helping with a quicker recovery.
“A good rain occurred, which helped the air quality and settled the dust,” Caison reported. “As with most fires, there is a fear of mudslides developing on the hills over the next few months. But it is cool and not expected to be hotter than low 70s for the next few days.”
Pastor Clay Hilton, of Connections Church and Native Christian Fellowship in Fort McMurray, was able to return home to retrieve the van his family left behind the day of the evacuation. However, they – like the rest of the Fort McMurray evacuees – will likely remain in Edmonton for a few more weeks as the clean-up continues.
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, Ga., 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
The North American Mission Board coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josie Rabbitt is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)