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Red Cross helps family after losing three homes in Alberta fires

By: Calli Forbes, Canadian Red Cross

Leonie Bree and her two daughters made the move to Fort McMurray 10 years ago, seeking out a fresh start in a community known for opportunity and innovation.

 “It’s exciting to be up here,” Leonie says about the community she has dubbed ‘Fantasy Island’. “You feel a part of this big thing that is happening.”

In the spring of 2016, Leonie says she was happily in the process of starting her own business, and she and her husband had recently bought a home in the neighbourhood of Abasand. Her daughters, Vanessa and Katrena, who were starting their own families, had also just bought homes in Beacon Hill and Waterways.

“All three of us, we reached that pinnacle of where we wanted to be,” Leonie recalls.

However, that all changed after wildfires swept through the city in May, forcing the family to evacuate. Unfortunately, all three homes were lost to the flames.

After returning to Fort McMurray, Leonie and her husband moved their trailer into a temporary RV site.After returning to Fort McMurray, Leonie and her husband moved their trailer into a temporary RV site. She was devastated; she didn’t have insurance on her condo and lost the groundwork with her business.
Leonie decided to reach out to the Red Cross, where she and her husband were assisted with winter clothing, groceries, and work clothes, along with rental assistance to help them secure a new home.

“(The Red Cross was) there to hear us,” she says. “You guys got things looked after immediately, and reassured us that your here for the long haul.”

Both of Leonie’s daughters also received support from the Red Cross, including Katrena, who made the difficult decision to not return to Fort McMurray after the fires.  She says the support provided by the Red Cross has been ‘the difference of night and day” for her family.
“It’s taken a huge, huge wait off my shoulders.”

Leonie knows there is a long road ahead, but is confident that Fort McMurray will build back stronger than ever.

“I can’t think of any other city in the world that would be able to pull off what we did. And that energy was there before the fire, and that’s what kept us here,” Leonie explains. “I won’t leave here, because of the potential of what this place can grow to be. The people that built it – we’re Canada.”
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