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Through the Smoke – A Fort McMurray Family’s Evacuation Story

By: Caitlin Simpson – Communications, Canadian Red Cross

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The unthinkable happened one day for Sheila Champion and her family. The rest of the country watched in disbelief through various news mediums, as wildfires threatened the city of Fort McMurray. The Champion family, along with approximately 88,000 other residents, were forced from their home, facing the uncertainty of not knowing if they would ever be able to return.

ChampionImage2_400.jpgSheila remembers the day of the evacuation in intricate detail – she listened to the fire reports and received no indication of any danger. The flames were unpredictable however, and they only intensified. The family began to gather their things prior to the official evacuation notice. “I ran around gathering our pets, medication, documentation – anything I could think of,” Sheila recalls.

They sat in a line of traffic and waited, but were fortunate enough to be in the first wave of people leaving. Within three hours of their exit, they received notice that the homes next to theirs were burning down.  “All I could think about were the pets that my friends had to leave behind. All the memorabilia we would never get back. All those memories – gone.  Now what?”  Sheila recalls.

Unfortunately, the Champion family lost their home to the fires.
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Sheila and her family remember feeling shocked, scared, and in a daze in the days following the evacuation.  As she describes: “that feeling of being empty and not knowing what the next five minutes was going to bring.”


Sheila felt like things couldn’t get much worse for her family. They even had to put down their family dog who became ill after the fires. They needed help more than ever.

The family turned to Canadian Red Cross for support with rent and groceries while they got back on their feet.

“Without the Canadian Red Cross I don’t know where we would be right now,” says Sheila. “They were so considerate of our situation.”

ChampionImage_460-(3).jpgThe last eight months have been a whirlwind for the Champion family. When she looks back, Sheila is overcome with emotion. Shelia and her husband were able to find work in Yellowknife and, with the help of Canadian Red Cross, have now relocated. They have a new beginning, and have made it through the smoke.

“Our future looks very bright and it’s only because of the help we received,” Sheila says. “Canadian Red Cross kept our family together and I truly don’t know what we would have done.”

To date, Canadian Red Cross has provided more than 58,000 households with financial assistance to support in their recovery from the May wildfires.

For more information on how donations towards the Alberta Fires Appeal are making a difference in the lives of impacted families and communities, please visit: Alberta Response 2016

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