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Harrowing Fort McMurray experience inspires kindness

Guest post by:  Laurie Young
It is a story taken right out of the pages of an adventure novel: a harrowing escape from a wildfire that was quickly encroaching on the city. This is how Peter Fortna and Jay Telegdi describe their evacuation from the Fort McMurray wildfires a year ago, which inspired the two friends to start a fundraiser for those evacuated from their homes in Aleppo, Syria.
On the day of their evacuation, Peter was working from home when he received a call from Jay, his roommate, who was working from a local coffee shop.  He called to tell him about the fire and plumes of smoke that he could see. Peter was nonchalant.  
"Instead of packing up and getting ready to leave, I thought I want to get some pictures of this so I went to grab my camera,” he recalled, adding he had told concerned loved ones they were not worried. “It's fine, we have forest fires every year, no need to worry.”
After about 30 minutes, they noticed the fire had crossed the river and was heading their way.  It became abundantly clear that they had to evacuate. 
"It's a lot like an adventure novel, we chose the wrong path all the time,” Peter recollected.
Finally a helicopter arrived and flew them to safety. The experience altered the way they looked at the world.  The images they saw of people escaping Aleppo resonated with them.  
"We all had a taste of what it is like to be refugees,” said Peter. “That experience really shaped the way we look at the world.”
They decided to do something to help the people in Aleppo.  
“For me, it was very clear from the beginning of evacuation that the Canadian Red Cross were absolute professionals,” explained Jay. “They were quick, they were organized, and they knew how to handle all elements of a crisis. I saw how they helped me, my friends and neighbours navigate what surely was the worst experience of our lives. So when I heard more and more about the crisis in Syria, I thought that these people needed help like this too. They have lost their homes, their communities, and their sense of security.”
Sammi, the famous Fort McMurray cat 
Peter has a very unique cat named Sammi. He was born in Romania to a family of show cats but was born with an overgrown tear duct, which has caused his face to be swollen and misshapen. As he was not show quality, his owner attempted to drown him in a river. He was rescued and ended up in Canada.  

During the evacuation, Peter took numerous pictures of his cat and shared them on social media.  Sammi became a celebrity even being featured on CNN.  They decided to use Sammi's fame to help others by raising funds for Aleppo.  They put Sammi's face on shirts with the slogan "Be Kind."
"We experienced the kindness of many different strangers,” said Peter. “We wanted something to encapsulate that.”
You can donate here and connect with Peter and Jay on their Facebook page for a chance to get a t-shirt with a minimum $20 donation (first come, first serve basis).
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