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Evacuated twice but spirits still high

Running from dense smoke and approaching flames is frightening enough the first time. But getting evacuated twice from the burning forests of northern Alberta still didn’t faze Mike Morrison and his fellow scaffolders.

“We’re just a bunch of old barnacles,” said Morrison, 60, pointing proudly at his Cape Breton t-shirt. “Our generation knows nothing but hard work, so we can handle this, right boys?” he added with a wink at his workmates, James Long, 62, and Kenneth Arscott, 46, at the Red Cross evacuation centre in Edmonton.

“Yeah, and right now, the three of us are very appreciative of the help from Red Cross,” said Long. “We know Red Cross is doing wonderful things around the world, so we’re really glad they’re here for us, too.”

Long, Morrison and Arscott were evacuated for the second time on Tuesday from the Fort McMurray region, after the NorAlta and Borealis camps were threatened by advancing wildfires. The trio only had moments to evacuate, and arrived in Edmonton with little but the clothes on their backs.

Pictured, left to right: Kenneth Arscott, Mike Morrison, James Long / Photo: Dianna Van Horn, American Red Cross.

“We’ve had to move camps a couple times because of the fires, and then we got evacuated again,” said Arscott. “Last time, I was flying all night, and waiting in airports before I finally got home to the Maritimes. Now I was up all night again.”

The three men registered with Red Cross, and planned to use the financial assistance for food, rental cars and more flights, said Long. “When we got here last night, we were basically broke. We especially appreciated the free bus ride into town. And our expenses aren’t over yet.”

But the men said they are used to tough situations. “We scaffolders work when it’s -40, or in the powerhouse with sweltering heat,” added Morrison. In the oil sands, scaffolders build support structures for maintenance inside massive boilers, and create complex frameworks for a range of difficult repairs at refineries.

“We’re pretty tired and could use a good sleep now, but the evacuations aren’t too bad,” said Morrison. “And the help here has been amazing for the most part, so I’m coming away happy.”

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