Coming together for Fort McMurray

Written by Estefania Cortes-Vargas, MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park.

First published in Sherwood Park News on May 9, 2016.

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the fires around the province, especially those from Fort McMurray. I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone across Strathcona-Sherwood Park and around our province for the massive outpouring of goodwill in this time of crisis; many have volunteered, donated or opened their homes. 

The protection of Albertans and their communities from the threat of wildfire remains our priority. Fire conditions remain extreme in most parts of Alberta, with 18 new starts last Wednesday. A total of 49 wildfires are burning around the province, with seven considered out of control, 12 being held, 23 under control, and seven turned over to the responsible parties. 

Mandatory evacuation orders are still in place for Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Fort McMurray First Nation. We want to ensure people listen to authorities and do not attempt to return at this time. This is for public safety. A provincially-declared state of emergency for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is in effect. 

We have a difficult road ahead of us, but I know Albertans are supporting each other and will face this challenge together.

Our priority is ensuring Albertans are safe. Our fire crews are working hard to reduce the threat of fire to people, homes and infrastructure. First responders and volunteers are doing incredible work in extremely difficult situations, and I thank them for that.

Due to heavy smoke and fire, motorists are being asked not to travel to Fort McMurray on either Highway 63 or Highway 881. Only essential travel should be undertaken. We are aware that people are running out of fuel on Highway 63 and are working to help them. Emergency gas and diesel are temporarily available along Highway 63. 

There is currently no timeline on evacuees returning for their home. Evacuees should contact Red Cross at 1-888-350-6070 or their local reception area to register their location. It’s important to register to ensure officials know how to reach you and so local authorities can ensure everyone is accounted for and safe.  

Residents of Strathcona County are rallying together to show their support and to welcome their northern neighbours. I have heard of organizations putting together special events for the visitors to our area. Hoteliers and restaurateurs in the community have been extremely accommodating and have nearly reached full capacity.

The reception they have provided is heartwarming and they have certainly shown the hospitality side of their industry. Strathcona County Family and Community Services (FCS) has representatives at the reception centre to help anyone who is temporarily staying in the county to access the supports they may need.

My gratitude goes out to Strathcona County Emergency Services who have deployed resources to assist in the coordinated efforts to battle the fires.  

Those of you who are looking to donate to help affected people are encouraged to contact the Canadian Red Cross. Our government and the federal government have both committed to match donations dollar-to-dollar and we have also provided the Red Cross with $2 million to help with their efforts.

We have a difficult road ahead of us, but I know Albertans are supporting each other and will face this challenge together. Albertans are strong, hard working and resilient. We have each other’s backs.