Two years later, a journal entry from Fort McMurray reminds volunteer of her experience

By Margo Edison

Margo Edison is a Canadian Red Cross emergency management volunteer from Newfoundland and Labrador. Two years ago she travelled to Fort McMurray to help respond to the massive wildfire that had forced tens of thousands from their homes. As she returned home, Margo took a moment to jot down her reflections on her time in Alberta, and the people she met there. 

Left Fort McMurray today after an exhausting but incredibly satisfying experience. The emotion of what you do, see and hear each day during a disaster is not easily described. I saw the devastation and felt the void of an evacuated city but I was also moved by hundreds of remarkable people!

Despite some very difficult days, I saw many residents coping well through it all, but one day was especially heartbreaking when I learned of an apartment complex, originally saved from the wildfire, destroyed by fire after an unfortunate mistake by one of the tenants. All were again homeless after having just returned for 48 hours.

Neighbours also helped neighbours by assisting in searching properties for personal items of importance. One lady searched for her late husband’s ashes while a young man and his dad sifted through their property in search of an engagement ring for his bride-to-be. I came away with a deeper appreciation of how long a minute can feel like when you’re faced with a loss of this magnitude and are needing the simplest thing to bring you comfort.

We gave Red Cross teddy bears to the kids as they arrived back in the city. Many children needed to be shown their charred swing sets on their property so they could orient themselves to where they once lived. It helped them to cope. One child returned home to find her goldfish alive after no water, food or electricity for 30 days! Caber, a Labrador retriever and intervention canine, soothed the souls of many, including me. He was one of 17 dogs on scene and the very first in the program. A family of bears driven from the wildfire set up in the community while it was being evacuated. They came in search of food and later gave birth to cubs so we couldn’t enter the area until wildlife officials removed them from the city.

One morning I pulled into a gas station to fill the Red Cross vehicle. There are very few places to fuel because of the evacuation so I was pleased to find one! When I went in to pay, I noticed a handwritten note stuck to the door by firefighters. They had to borrow windshield fluid during the night so they could continue their work. Another day, after a tough 16-hour shift, we were leaving to return to camp when we suddenly stopped to take it an enormous rainbow that appeared over the city!

I’m so glad I went to help out. I was amazed by the highly skilled response teams from across Canada and around the world. Even the Red Cross had specialists from different countries come in. Every responder and volunteer has a special skill set or talent and I felt proud to be part of that team.
I want to say thanks to each of you who sent me words of encouragement. Your notes and acts of kindness kept my spirits high. I know I have an amazing family who supports me when I’m called to deploy but it takes a crew to keep a ship sailing!

Fort McMurray is still a beautiful city to work and raise a family. I loved it and would move there in a second! The people are just the folks at home; warm and friendly, even during hard times.

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