One Year After the Fires

One year ago, we were coming to grips with the disaster unfolding in Fort McMurray and the surrounding area. The scope and scale of the wildfire was unlike anything we had faced before. Today, we look back at how the generosity of Canadians has brought help and hope to the residents of Fort McMurray, and how that help will continue in the months and years to come.

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As a tragedy unfolds, Canada comes together in solidarity

May 1
As a wildfire threatens Fort McMurray and surrounding areas, a local state of emergency is declared.

May 3
The fire intensifies and spreads rapidly. A mass evacuation order for Fort McMurray is issued and residents rush to flee the city. The Canadian Red Cross begins to register evacuees and starts receiving donations from Canadians.

May 4
With the wildfire raging out of control, the province of Alberta declares a state of emergency. Red Cross cots, blankets and other shelter supplies arrive in Edmonton to support evacuation shelters there, as well as in Calgary and Lac La Biche.

May 7
Donations to the Red Cross continue to pour in from across Canada and around the world. From coast to coast, thousands of Red Cross volunteers and workers mobilize to support a massive operation. The Red Cross begins to distribute cash cards in Calgary and Edmonton to help evacuees meet their immediate needs, such as food, clothing and gas, and provide emotional support.

May 11
Thanks to overwhelming support, the Red Cross announces $50 million in immediate financial assistance. In just one day, more than $30 million was sent to 28,000 households in need of help.

May 30
With the threat of the wildfire contained, the Government of Alberta announces that evacuees can begin to return to their communities on June 1. The Red Cross allocates $40 million to help residents with costs of returning home. This includes flights and buses, as well as financial assistance for households.

June 1
Red Cross volunteers are at the airport to welcome the first wave of returning residents. They provide emotional support, clean-up materials, water, vouchers and information at eight reception centres set up around the city. This assistance continues throughout the summer.

June 2
As more residents return, demand for community services increases significantly. The Red Cross announces $50 million to support community organizations and works alongside local partners to identify and meet needs.

June 10
Entrepreneurs and small business owners continue to assess the damage and impact on their operations. In partnership with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Economic Developers Alberta, the Red Cross launches a small business hotline and announces emergency financial support to help support eligible businesses with initial clean-up costs.

June 13
To be able to meet face-to-face with returning residents, the Red Cross opens its first office in Fort McMurray.

August 3
Thousands of Fort McMurray residents continue to face housing and financial struggles. The Red Cross begins providing financial assistance to help individuals and families pay for housing.

October 19
The Red Cross announces a second round of funding to help eligible small businesses cover losses and re-open their doors after the wildfires.

November 3
Six months after the disaster, the Red Cross has already spent more than $178 million to directly assist those impacted by the fires. Individuals, families, community partners and small business owners continue to meet with the Red Cross to receive help and referrals for ongoing supports from community groups. This work continues today.

Through the smoke

How you helped give one family a new start

For Sheila Champion and her family, the unthinkable happened.

As the country watched in disbelief, wildfires tore through the Fort McMurray area. The Champion family, along with approximately 88,000 other residents, fled their home not knowing if they would ever be able to return.

Sheila remembers the day of the evacuation.

“I ran around gathering our pets, medication, documentation – anything I could think of,” Sheila recalls.

The family sat in a line of traffic, waiting to get to safety. Within hours of leaving, they heard 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.

Tragically, the Champion family lost their home to the fires.

Sheila remembers feeling shocked, scared, and in a daze. She felt like things couldn’t get any worse. They didn’t know what the next five minutes was going to bring. They needed help more than ever.

“Our future looks very bright, and it’s only because of the help we received.”

The family turned to the Canadian Red Cross for support with rent and groceries while they got back on their feet. “Without the Red Cross I don’t know where we would be right now,” says Sheila. “They were so considerate of our situation.”

When Sheila looks back on the year since the wildfires, she is overcome with emotion. She and her husband were able to find work in Yellowknife and, with the help of Canadian Red Cross, have now relocated.

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

Open for business

Rebuilding Livelihoods in Fort McMurray

Michelle Van Der Haegen opened the doors of Pyramid Dental Hygiene Services in 2010. After a few years of hard work, the dental hygienist was starting to see her business take off.

But when the wildfires hit Fort McMurray, everything came to a halt. She lost valuable income while the community remained evacuated for nearly four weeks.

Upon returning to Fort McMurray in June, Michelle found herself overwhelmed with the financial burden of trying to reopen her business.

“We had to throw out absolutely everything,” she says.

After applying to the Red Cross small business program, Michelle received financial assistance to help her replace equipment and supplies.

“Without the support from the Red Cross, I am sure I would have been closing my doors,” she says. “I would have had to find another alternative, because I don’t think it would have been possible to stay open.”

Today, the doors of Pyramid Dental Hygiene Services are open for business. Although Michelle knows there is still a lot of work ahead, she says she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I like helping people that come to my clinic. They’ve come here for my services and they’ve been very supportive,” Michelle says. “And I’m going to be here a very long time.”

Thank you

None of this would have been possible without the incredible support of Canadians from across the country as well as people around the world. You have made an incredible difference in the lives of Albertans.

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