Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate a deserving individual or organization. With your help, the Alberta government officially recognized more than 1,000 people who stepped up to help those affected by the devastating Wood Buffalo wildfire.
When more than 88,000 people were forced to flee their homes and communities last May, Albertans showed their true colours. Without hesitation, friends, family and complete strangers jumped into action and did what they could to help.
Whether it was helping people evacuate, donating goods and money, rescuing pets left behind, or opening their businesses, homes and hearts to those displaced by the disaster, many people demonstrated compassion and courage, and made a huge difference in the lives of so many.
If you were one of the people nominated, congratulations - most of all thank you. Your efforts will be long remembered by the people you helped, as well as by your government, and by your fellow Albertans.
We know there are many more heroes out there who haven’t been officially recognized. While your actions may be unsung, know that your efforts are appreciated by all of us.
To all of our heroes, and to all of you who shared their stories, thank you.
And to everyone affected by the wildfire, our hearts remain with you as you undertake your long journey of recovery.
Stories of strength
Inspirational stories of those who experienced the Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo wildfire and their remarkable acts of strength and generosity displayed during the disaster.
Freedom's Note's song "The Fight" became the unofficial anthem of the wildfire and a tribute to all the first responders.
Donny Synard, Danny Fewer, Mark Stewart, and Trevor Lethbridge are collectively known as the rock band “Freedom’s Note”.
Like other residents who fled the RMWB wildfire on May 3, they had just enough time to get their families out, but not much else.
Unlike other evacuees, the band wrote and recorded a song while waiting to return home. “The Fight”, recorded, produced, engineered and mixed at MCC Recording Studio in Calgary, soon became the unofficial anthem of the wildfire and a tribute to the first responders who stayed behind to fight the blaze.
The band also recorded a video featuring real-life scenes from the disaster, showing not only the fierceness of the fire but the strength of the people who it affected. You can hear “The Fight” and watch the video at Freedom's Note website. The band is donating all proceeds from the sale of the song to the Canadian Red Cross for the Alberta Fires Appeal.
Members of Freedom’s Note have all returned home and are in the process of replacing what they lost in the wildfire.
A guardian angel on the air
Leslie-Anne Chapman is one of the voices of “XMD-81,” a call sign which helped guide firefighters and aircraft during the wildfire.
As thousands of people fled Wood Buffalo during the wildfire, Leslie-Anne Chapman, a seasoned wildfire dispatcher with the Government of Alberta, was one of a handful of people who stayed behind in critical fire operations roles. Leslie-Anne is one of the voices of “XMD-81,” a call sign belonging to the Fort McMurray radio room, who helped guide firefighters and aircraft during the wildfire.
Wildfire Dispatchers play critical roles in fire operations putting safety at the top of their priority list. They orchestrate medical incidents, incoming and outgoing aircraft, flight following, wildfire administration and seamless information flow from command to the fire line. They are the first voice on the radio in the morning, and the last voice saying good night at the end of a long day. Everyone involved in wildfire operations interacts with them.
Leslie-Anne and a small group remained behind during the evacuation to keep wildfire operations running flawlessly. They monitored their post at the Provincial Building while wildfire threatened them from all around. They watched as their homes and belongings were lost and as neighbourhoods burned to the ground. They remained through the night of May 3rd while flames licked the trees and the buildings all around them, wondering if they would have to leave before morning. They were guardian angels on the radios for hundreds of wildland firefighters, pilots, heavy equipment operators and first responders.
Now she lends her voice to raise awareness for PTSD in first responders, starting conversations about mental health and wellness to help her co-workers get the support and rest they need. Leslie-Anne has gone well beyond the duty of her job to ensure her team is safe and cared for. When she calls XMD-81 is down for the night, it means everyone is safe to start another day of operations tomorrow.
Men of the highway
Jeff Fafard, Alex Frost and Kavin Ban loaded a truck with water, food and fuel to deliver to Fort McMurray evacuees.
Understanding there was an urgent need for supplies in the wake of the Wood Buffalo evacuation, Jeff Fafard, Alex Frost and Kavin Ban loaded a truck with water, food and fuel and headed north from Edmonton.
Navigating closed routes, contacting evacuation centres to assess needs and coordinating with other volunteers collecting donations, he and his team joined up with four other trucks en route to Fort McMurray, stopping in Plamondon, Lac La Biche, Beaver Lake, Grassland and Boyle among other places to deliver supplies to evacuated residents.
The team continued on to Fort McMurray, taking on some of the load from the other four trucks. They arrived in Fort McMurray in the early morning.
After dropping off fuel at Tar Island, they started the trek back to Edmonton, but found themselves stuck on the highway with other evacuating residents when the wind shifted and the highway was closed. The team began distributing water, Gatorade and food to other people waiting on the highway, all the while trying to keep spirits up. The next morning, the road was opened and the team returned to Edmonton.
From Edmonton, Jeff continued to circulate information about needed supplies. He often drove to Lac La Biche, Boyle and Athabasca to visit evacuation centres to confirm what was needed. Jeff even helped arrange for items such as phone chargers for firefighters and other first responders battling the blaze in Fort McMurray.
Flames, smoke and a lack of sleep didn’t deter Jeff, Alex and Kavin from manning the highway to take care of those in need.
Volunteer firefighter Chris Strong filled fuel cans to distribute to evacuees as he headed north to fight the blaze.
As a volunteer firefighter with Syncrude, Chris Strong was getting ready to head to work when he heard about the fire.
He grabbed a bag with a pair of pants a few shirts and socks, he kissed his wife, son and daughter, told them he loved them and walked out the door of his Fort McMurray home.
He stopped to fill fuel cans so he could help people along the way as he headed north. Once there he met up with the crews from Syncrude and never stopped.
When Syncrude made the decision to do a complete shutdown, they encouraged him to head south but he refused and headed to MacDonald Island until crews from Syncrude returned to town to continue the fight.
Giving evacuated pets a second chance
The owners of the Second Home Pet Resort in Leduc opened their doors to shelter pets that had been misplaced by the fire.
Big or small, furry or not, pets are members of the family.
When the Wood Buffalo wildfire forced many residents to leave behind cherished family pets, Lorna and her family, owners of the Second Home Pet Resort Inc. in Leduc, opened their doors to pets that had nowhere else to go.
Some animals were evacuated by firefighters, others were left behind in the rush of the evacuation, but every single animal brought to Lorna found a safe and welcoming temporary home.
This family and their love for animals gave many cherished pets a second chance to be reunited with their families.
Edmonton Food Bank dishes up support for displaced residents
Since May, Edmonton's Food Bank has supplied food to thousands of wildfire evacuees in Edmonton and throughout Wood Buffalo.
Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank worked around the clock throughout the evacuation to ensure everyone who fled the wildfire would have access to food for themselves and their families.
It was a monumental task, and the Edmonton Food Bank joined forces with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and other emergency evacuee organizations and communities in northern Alberta, including Lac La Biche, Athabasca, Bonnyville and Fort McMurray to accomplish this goal.
The Edmonton Food Bank also provided support to evacuation centres in Edmonton, and continues to help evacuees who have chosen to remain in Edmonton by providing food hampers. For those who have relocated to Edmonton, the Food Bank also provided ongoing support through job search and resume workshops.
Rescuing our furry friends of Fort McMurray
Dr. Leslie Powell assisted in the rescue of several animals separated from their owners due to the wildfire.
Six days after the mandatory evacuation, Dr. Leslie Powell of Aurora Veterinary Clinic returned to Fort McMurray to work with the RMWB Animal Control Bylaw Services.
Dr. Powell assisted in the rescue of several animals separated from their owners due to the wildfire and also provided treatment for as many as 40 cats and several dogs a day.
Basic veterinary care was provided such as administering IV fluids for dehydration and treating wounds before these animals were sent south to be reunited with owners at various animal rescue groups. She also helped establish protocols for reuniting owners with their pets and kept records on each animal treated. More than 1,000 animals were treated during this time.
Dr. Powell’s outstanding care and compassion she shows each furry patient continues to be recognized by her employees through the Heroes of the Wildfire online recognition program.
It’s all in a day’s work: going above and beyond to help others
Lorna Magwelang, a janitorial worker at a hospital, joined nurses to evacuate patients to safety.
On May 3, everyone was ordered to evacuate Fort McMurray, including all staff and patients at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
Lorna Magwelang, a janitorial worker at the hospital, was unable to leave because fire was crossing the highway, preventing her ride from reaching her. Instead of panicking, Lorna joined the nurses as they worked to evacuate the last of the patients to safety – these were patients who were bedridden and couldn’t walk on their own.
Lorna not only helped get 5 patients out of the hospital and onto buses, she joined them on a flight to Edmonton, looking after “her” patients the entire trip.
The next day, 400 kilometres from home, Lorna finally reconnected with her ride, and was able to join her own family, also safely evacuated from the fire.
Lac La Biche County Fire Rescue: Coming to the aid of their neighbours
A volunteer crew of Lac La Biche firefighters left the comfort of their community to battle the blaze in Fort McMurray.
When disaster strikes your neighbours, you drop everything to help them. That’s exactly what Lac La Biche County Fire Rescue did when the Wood Buffalo wildfire started in May.
When the call for support came in, a crew of four Lac La Biche firefighters immediately dropped everything, packed their gear, and left for Fort McMurray with two trucks to help battle the blaze and protect the area. Despite being volunteer-run and busy with multiple calls of their own, Lac La Biche was one of the first departments to respond and arrive.
As the days progressed, the department rotated out, sending a total of 12 people to battle the blaze. These volunteers said goodbye to their families, and put their own lives in danger to protect something that wasn’t theirs.
Remaining members stayed in Lac La Biche to support the evacuation centre and respond to calls that came in - wildfire-related and otherwise. They also raised funds through a car wash, with all proceeds donated to the Fort McMurray Firefighter Relief Fund to assist Fort McMurray Fire/EMS personnel and their families who lost their homes and belongings.
The support provided by Lac La Biche County Fire Rescue was instrumental to the battle of the fire and saving the city - including the water treatment plant. And their support of their fellow firefighters and their families in Fort McMurray will not be forgotten.
Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society: Accomplishing the impossible
The Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society provided relief and rehousing support to help those affected by the wildfire.
While “The Beast” raged on in the Wood Buffalo region, the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society (EERSS) sprung into action. But even with 30 years of experience, nothing could prepare it for the onslaught of evacuees about to descend on the city.
Before evacuees arrived, plans were underway to collect and distribute material donations already piling up at their downtown warehouse. Led by its Executive Director, Cindi Hache this tiny organization of only five employees proved that determination and teamwork could accomplish the (seemingly) impossible.
In a very short time, the EERSS assembled and organized volunteers, manned phones, received and sorted donations for immediate distribution, and delivered emergency supplies. Normally an informal group that helps fire victims and victims of poverty, the EERSS handled everything professionally and transitioned smoothly into each “phase” as needs changed.
Days turned into months, and although they were exhausted from long hours and arduous work, the EERSS successfully coordinated relief efforts for one of Alberta's largest natural disasters.
From tornados to floods to wildfires, the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society has proven to be invaluable to Albertans, providing relief and rehousing support to help those affected by disaster.