The Salvation Army in Fort McMurray: One Year after the Wildfire

Emergency Disaster Services mobile unit serves first responders
by Linda Leigh
Categories: Articles, Feature, Mobile, Newswire
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“The haunting memories of the wildfire are as fresh today as they were one year ago,” says Major Stephen Hibbs of The Salvation Army. “Lots of healing still needs to take place in Fort McMurray.”

It’s been one year since the northern Alberta city was swallowed by a wildfire, which forced the evacuation of nearly 90,000 people, destroyed 2,500 homes and other buildings, and caused more damage than any other disaster in Canadian history.

“When the fire started on May 1, 2016, Salvation Army Fort McMurray personnel and our community response unit (CRU) were on the front lines immediately serving food and drinks to fire fighters,” says Hibbs. “We held our position there until the entire city was evacuated on May 3.”

The Salvation Army’s Emergency and Disaster Services work during the wildfire was extensive. They served 25,000 meals, deployed seven CRUs, and volunteers from seven provinces and two territories worked 7,000 hours helping with the response.

From practical support to emotional and spiritual care, The Salvation Army continues to help the residents of Fort McMurray as they rebuild their lives and homes

“When I reflect on those days I remember the adrenalin rush, fear of death, intense heat, burning homes, gridlocked traffic, children screaming, lots of crying and lots of praying,” says Hibbs. “It’s all still fresh in my brain.”  

Hibbs says that a year later, The Salvation Army is still on the front lines for people who need practical assistance, consoling and counselling.

“People say we haven’t heard much from Fort McMurray, so we assume you are getting on with it. But we are not,” says Hibbs. “Well over 15,000 people haven’t moved back to the city, there have been suicide attempts and every counselling service here is maxed out. That says volumes.

“But Fort McMurray has hope. After I was permitted to return home to the city I saw a robin and a butterfly on a small patch of green surface. Everything around them was black, scorched and burning. In that moment I was reminded that hope and new life can come out of ashes.”

The Salvation Army has served in Fort McMurray since 1979 and is grateful for the generous support of Canadians across the country. The impacts of this trauma are far reaching and will be felt for years to come. From practical support to emotional and spiritual care, The Salvation Army continues to help the residents of Fort McMurray as they rebuild their lives and homes.