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The first to evacuate when wildfires threatened

Guest post by Bob Wallace, Canadian Red Cross

Rita Fudge and James Collier at the returning evacuee Welcome Centre in Fort McMurray
Rita Fudge and James Collier at the returning evacuee Welcome Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Rita and James evacuated early as the wildfires were approaching their city. Photo Credit: Bob Wallace/Canadian Red Cross
Rita Fudge examines the contents of a Red Cross after-fire kit
Rita Fudge examines the contents of a Red Cross after-fire kit that is being distributed along with Red Cross clean-up kits and water at the Welcome Centre for returning evacuees in Fort McMurray. Photo Credit: Bob Wallace/Canadian Red Cross
James Collier believes he and Rita Fudge were the first residents to evacuate when the wildfires were approaching Fort McMurray.
“When that fire hit the valley [across the river] I called Rita and told her it was time to get out,” said James.
Soon after that call, he was home. They quickly hitched their camper to their truck and headed south. Leaving early, they avoided the mad rush that ensued when the mandatory evacuation order was issued and thousands of people raced to get out of town, driving through walls of flame and smoke so thick it was difficult to see beyond the front of their vehicles.
James and Rita initially set up camp in Anzac, a hamlet southeast of Fort McMurray, then moved  south to Wandering River, and eventually even further south to the village of Boyle, Alberta.
“The people in Boyle were wonderful,” said Rita. “Anything we needed they helped us with…The grocery store even gave us 10-15 per cent discounts…. It is good to be home though.”
While the fires ravaged several neighborhoods, James and Rita’s house was miraculously untouched. However, it  needed a good cleaning. But they really did hate to lose the contents of their freezer due to the power outages.
“I kept my freezer full and had just put in a new case of rib eye steaks, made a batch of spaghetti for lots of dinners, and was just back from a big shopping trip to Costco,” said Rita. "Oh, and there was that big bag of scallops,” she continued.
“I’m a hunter and had lots of deer and moose meat in there, too,” said James.

But Rita and James could tell from the way the ice cream had melted and refrozen when the power came back that it must have been off for some time. They concluded the possibility of getting sick was not worth the risk of keeping the food and threw it out.
James works at United Rentals and Rita at a local restaurant. Both are looking forward to getting their lives back to normal. “We will re-open the restaurant, but all our staff are gone, so we will have to just hire more and start over,” said a stoic Rita.
While many are starting over  in Fort McMurray after suffering an unprecedented disaster, spirits are high with neighbors helping each other and assistance from government and relief and recovery agencies such as the Red Cross. Fort McMurray is strong and will recover and be better than ever.

View more information on the Red Cross response to the wildfires in Alberta here.

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