Fort McMurray responds to B.C. fire disaster

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - Seeing reports of the wildfire evacuations in British Columbia has brought back stressful memories for residents of Fort McMurray,Alta., who had to flee a massive wildfire just over a year ago.

But they've sprung into action by collecting donations of supplies for first responders, driving those supplies to B.C., and offering advice and guidance for evacuees through a Facebook page.

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“Last year, everybody throughout our whole country was awesome and the support we had was very emotional for everybody. It meant so much,” said Stephanie Klaamas, a Fort McMurray resident who helped organize a trailer-load of relief supplies that left for B.C. on Sunday morning.

“We want to be able to help as much as we can. And being through it, we know exactly what's needed.”

Garrett Shaw, who lost his house in the Fort McMurray fire and now lives in Grande Prairie, Alta., also collected a load of supplies and drove them to B.C. on Saturday.

“There is no stage large enough for Fort McMurray to stand on, and our gratitude to be heard, for the kindness and generosity we received last year during the fire,” Shaw said Sunday afternoon from just outside Kamloops, B.C.

“Any stress that we might be feeling is overcome by the excitement that we have that we're able to return the favour - that we're the people running towards the fire this time instead of away from it.”

The supplies they've collected include water, snacks, toiletries to help people who are fighting the fires. The organizers said they've made arrangements with officials or other volunteers in B.C. to receive them.

Klaamas said the efforts began with a message to a Facebook page that was established last year to help Fort McMurray residents. It was from a woman in 100 Mile House, with animals who wasn't sure what to do.

Klaamas said the page wasn't particularly active anymore. Nevertheless, the woman received hundreds of responses and Klaamas started a new Facebook page for Fort McMurray residents to help B.C. evacuees.

There's advice on contacting insurance companies and taking pictures or video of your home's contents. If you have time, people have posted, empty your refrigerator before you leave.

Klaamas said the response in Fort McMurray for donations has been so large that other trailers are being loaded with supplies for evacuees, such as clothes and diapers.

Some of those donations are being received and distributed by volunteers with a group called The Postmen, which got its start during the Fort McMurray fire by helping people who became stranded during the evacuation.

Jessica Cressey, a Postmen volunteer in Kamloops, has been accepting and sorting donations in her yard and carport. Other volunteers help connect the donations with people who need them.

“Once they become involved, they become a Postman as well,” Cressey said.

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