Scorched trees now line the roads where children played and parents drove to work. Ash and soot blanket everything—like dust settles on unmoved furniture. The sunrise is hazy with smoke that fills the air with a sweet scent, yet the ground is littered with bitter remnants.
Communities across the Fort McMurray area in Alberta, Canada have faced tragically beautiful scenes like these since fires sparked at the beginning of May. Conditions continue to remain tough—with the Fort McMurray-area wildfires taking up 522,892 hectares (nearly 1.3 million acres for those of us who prefer standard units of measurement). 1,880 firefighters, 104 helicopters, 295 pieces of heavy equipment and 29 air tankers are currently hard at work battling the fires.1
Nearly a hundred thousand Albertans fled the destruction, traveling to larger cities like Calgary and Edmonton2 (familiar stateside for their National Hockey League teams: the Flames and Oilers respectively).
As fires spread throughout the province, those in the path of the destruction were left with a very difficult decision: "What can I take with me? What do I need?"
Those are questions many never want to think about or much less need to have an answer to. As reported by BBC News, some quick-thinking people grabbed some items many would not have thought to take—a pie plate, a glue gun, and my personal favorite, a bottle of rum.3
Some clung to sentimental pieces; objects that tied them together as a family: photographs, Bibles passed down for generations. Others? Simple things like shirts, jeans and a travel-sized toothbrush.4
When you only have moments to spare before fleeing to a place you may not be familiar with, you may not think to grab the standards like an extra pair of shoes, kids’ favorite games, or important paperwork. We're always talking about the importance of go-bags and emergency kits in these circumstances; situations that require you to run far and run fast. Having a kit on hand can make split-second decisions in emergencies a lot easier—or even second nature.
But, for those who couldn't grab their kits, who had to leave them behind, or who may not have had one, there has been an outpouring of support from communities. We see it all the time—communities giving as much as they can to those who have lost everything: including food, blankets, supplies, housing, or money…and it never stops warming our hearts.
One family returned home to find it full of all the things family members may need: pots and pans, toys, furniture—all donated from friends and family. They paid it forward as well—sharing some of the charity they received with others who were also affected by the fire’s destruction.5
Some organizations are collecting and organizing donations of items you wouldn't think would be needed: prom dresses. After disasters, it’s hard to find normalcy again. Prom dresses, for some young women, can help bring a little piece of that back—especially after an event like the Fort McMurray fire.6
One of the recommendations we make most after disasters (including those that happen in other countries) is that donating money is the best way to help impacted areas. That way, communities can get what they need when they need it.
For all that was lost, some things were left. Homes, neighborhoods, and some things as small as a simple memorial to a son, brother, and friend lost in a car crash six years back.7
What fire takes and what it leaves can be a mystery to many. Although what comes out of the fire and the flames—like communities’ resilience and strength—are worth far more than the material things that are gone.
- Ready.gov’s Instructions for Emergency Kits
- Download the FEMA App for more preparedness tips, reminders, and weather alerts
- Alberta Government Situation Report (as of May 22, 2016, 3:00pm)
- CNN Article: “Inside fire-ravaged Fort McMurray: Utter devastation, glimmers of hope”
- BBC News Article: “Canada wildfire: Odd items people took during their evacuation”
- Maclean’s Photo Essay: “The things they couldn’t leave behind in Fort McMurray”
- CBC News Article: “’I just about fainted’: Family overwhelmed with help after Fort McMurray evacuation”
- CBC News Article: “Tulle, glitter and giving back: Finding unique ways to help people in Fort McMurray”
- CBC News Article: “Amid the devastation, Fort McMurray wildfire leaves a hint of mercy”