One year after the fires: a Fort McMurray family returns home

Christina and Chris MacKay stand in the kitchen of their new house in Fort McMurray. It’s nearly finished – the walls are painted, the cupboards are in – they are just awaiting the final touches.
Building a new house was never on the young family’s bucket list.

“It’s been stressful, but at the same time I’m glad we were here doing it together because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else besides Fort McMurray right now,” Christina says.

The MacKay family lost their home in the heavily-impacted neighbourhood of Abasand in last May’s wildfire. Christina, who was pregnant at the time, evacuated with their two young sons to Cape Breton to spend the summer with their extended family. Chris, who works as a firefighter, remained behind to battle the flames.

When the family first visited a Canadian Red Cross office during the evacuation, they didn’t know where to begin.

“You are so overwhelmed because you need everything – everything is gone,” Christina explains. “We had the kids and we had ourselves, and then we only had the clothes on our backs.”

The MacKay family one year after Alberta fires devastated their family home.Through the generosity of Canadians, the MacKays received support for items such as clothing, groceries, supplies for the children, and return flights to Fort McMurray. However, beyond the financial support, what really touched the family was seeing how Canadians rallied across the country to help the residents of Fort McMurray in whatever way they could.

“I think when the fire happened people’s eyes were opened about how much of a community there is here (in Fort McMurray),” says Christina. “We’ve known it. That’s why we’ve stayed and chosen to raise our kids here.”

One year after the wildfires, the MacKays are looking forward to building a life in their new home – watching their sons learn to ride bikes in their cul-de-sac and spend summer days playing at their community park.

The MacKays know there is still a long way to go before their community fully recovers. Their local park still needs to be rebuilt, and some of their neighbours are just beginning to rebuild this spring.  Yet with each newly-framed home that goes up, they are hopeful for the return of their close-knit community.

“Moving back in will be amazing,” says Chris.  “But having our neighbours move back in will be what makes it a community again.”

Reflecting on this past year, the MacKays agree that it is hard to describe how much  the support they have received – from their family and loved ones, fellow Fort McMurray residents, and from complete strangers who donated to the Red Cross – has made such a difference in their recovery.

“It was a tough, tough time for so many people and just knowing that the rest of Canada was behind us was just amazing and we are just grateful,” Christina says. "This organization is amazing. They do so many amazing things and they’ve helped so many people. Truly, it makes me proud to be a Canadian.”

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