Date / Period
Fort McMurray, Alta.
Object Type
Disaster Management

In May 2016, a wildfire began that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta and surrounding communities. The fire, which became known as “the Beast,” displaced over 85,000 people, in the largest fire-related evacuation in Alberta’s history. The Canadian Red Cross was on the ground immediately, and launched the Alberta Fires Appeal to help provide aid. Canadians across the country showed an unprecedented amount of support, donating over $130 million to the appeal as of June 2016.

The Red Cross supported those impacted by the fires across the country in ways such as registering evacuees, providing emergency financial assistance, distributing vouchers, offering emotional support, as well as assisting evacuees in their return home through transportation assistance, and distributing clean-up kits.

"Not many people walked around without a mask strapped on."

In the early days after the mandatory evacuation order was lifted, respirators were used by all first responders, including Canadian Red Cross volunteers and staff, to protect them from ash and potential toxins in the air.

“Not many people walked around without a mask strapped on,” says Matthew Colling, Canadian Red Cross Community Planning and Response Manager for the B.C. and Yukon. “Without the mask on, during extended periods outside, you would definitely feel the effects in a pretty negative way.”

The respirators were no longer needed as re-entry began in the impacted areas.

“Arriving that first day in Fort McMurray with the wildfire still raging close by, you would look up to see the sun blotted out in a strange orange hue,” Colling recalls. “You would look down at your vehicle and see just how much ash accumulated in just a few hours on the windshield.”

Due to the size of the fire and the impact on Fort McMurray and surrounding communities, the Canadian Red Cross has opened a permanent office to help support rebuilding and recovery.

The Canadian Red Cross received many messages of thanks from Fort McMurray residents throughout the response, including this one: “I just wanted to thank the Red Cross and everyone who was involved in supporting the people affected by the wildfire. This money will allow me to get some much needed clothing and food.”


A letter from a donor describing the assistance her daughter and granddaughter had received following evacuation.

“Proud,” a song written and donated by Newfoundland’s Sean McCann of Great Big Sea fame. Sean was in Banff the day the fires started and was deeply moved by the ordeal. “For the first three days it just looked hopeless and I felt hopeless. Then I started to see Canadians responding en masse and I started to feel hope come back.”

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