Red Deer offers support to Fort Mac evacuees

Cecil Williams and his family moved back to Red Deer from Fort McMurray last September because of the oilpatch slowdown.

The former home of Gunner Williams

The former home of Gunner Williams

Cecil Williams and his family moved back to Red Deer from Fort McMurray last September because of the oilpatch slowdown.

He posted a photo on Facebook on Wednesday of the home he left behind and others on his former street completely engulfed in flames. He points out online his house was the one right behind the light pole, adding “god was on our shoulders.”

“It was just total shock and devastation,” said Williams, of his reaction on seeing the image of the house in flames.

“I mean a community like Fort McMurray, people just think it’s an oil and gas industry up there. But you know what? It’s a family community.”

So many of the 80,000 residents came from elsewhere that it bonded them and relationships were close.

Williams lived in the Wood Buffalo subdivision, one of several areas northwest of the downtown core hit hard by the wildfire.

His street was the kind of quiet neighbourhood were local kids could safely play street hockey all day. He admits to shedding a few tears on Wednesday as he thought about the plights of friends and neighbours.

Friends who own a pet bordering business had to pack up all of their animals and flee to Lac La Biche, he said.

Williams, who drives a truck delivering fracking sand, said more than a hundred other drivers were gathered in Grande Prairie and everybody it seemed had some sort of Fort McMurray connection.

“Everybody’s got somebody touched by this right now.”

Drivers were making donations by credit card or any way they could all day. “They’re really pulling together to help.”

Williams, who lives in Red Deer with his wife Allison and seven-year-old daughter, has offered his home, as have numerous others across Alberta, to anyone who needs a place to stay.

“It’s just good to see that everyone is pulling together, right.”

Mayor Tara Veer is not surprised by the messages and offers of support that have come pouring out of her town.

“It’s always incredibly humbling how giving Red Deerians are,” said Veer. “I am so proud of our citizens and proud to be a Red Deerian.

“Red Deer was so quick out of the gate to offer support at a community level.”

On an official level, Veer has already been in contact with Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake and pledged whatever support the city can provide.

The gesture was appreciated but all outside offers of help are being co-ordinated through provincial emergency operations.

It is likely Red Deer will also have a role to play in helping Fort McMurray rebuild when the danger has passed, said Veer.

Facebook has been filled with offers of support for Fort McMurray residents fleeing the fire. People are opening their homes to people who need a place to stay, offering to take in pets and gathering donations.

Red Deer hotels are offering free rooms, and even vacant apartment suites have been offered.

Northlands Apartments manager Kip Perron has 20 suites available for evacuees at his building at 2935 50th Ave.

Perron’s sister is working in the kitchens in a ConocoPhillips camp a few kilometres south of Fort McMurray. About 200 residents fleeing the fire have taken refuge in the camp, which is also providing food to another camp with 500 evacuees.

Perron said after talking with his sister he knew what he could do.

“I just can’t stand by and let (the suites) sit vacant when there are people out there who have lost absolutely everything.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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