Last week, a wildfire started near Fort McMurray.
This wasn’t anything new. A fire in 2011 had gotten pretty close to the city, evacuating several of the oilsands camps before it was pushed back. When you drive along the highway up to the city, you can see patches of trees of different sizes, indicators that a fire had once been there.
But last week, the entire city of 80,000 was evacuated, with many having to leave their personal belongs, pets and homes behind, sometimes fleeing with just the clothes on their back.
We have seen the images of the smoke clouds, of the burnt cars and empty foundations. We have seen the videos of people making their way south, bright embers scattering across the hoods of their cars while they painstakingly drive past burning trees. We have heard stories of babies being born in camps, of neighbours banging on doors and relatives anxious to know if loved ones made it out. One man who escaped the fire went back home to Cape Breton to find out his house there had burnt down.
Over 200,000 hectares of forest have been burnt, and as of Monday morning, it has veered away from the city, but there were threats of it jumping into the neighbouring provinces.
What happened – is happening – is no joke. This is a real tragedy, the largest natural disaster in Alberta’s history happening in our own backyard.
Yes, it is easy to sneer at the industry that Fort McMurray is synonymous for, because of its environmental record and distinct lack of visual appeal. We can all agree that oil is not the most environmentally friendly product.
But, to blame the citizens of Fort McMurray for the fire, for public employees to tweet “Karmic”, for people to say where are the electric cars or they’re glad it’s happening, is inexcusable.
People have died fleeing the fire, at least one neighborhood is destroyed, 80,000 can’t return home, the fire is still out of control and you’re playing the blame game?
For some people to condemn the citizens in Fort McMurray, suggesting that it is ironic, they deserve it, it was coming to them or to blame it on politics is the height of distaste.
To say that these hard working people deserve to lose everything is not right.
Chances are, you know someone who’s worked in Fort McMurray. Maybe you’ve even worked there yourself. The city is diverse and giving, and the oilsand industry that powers it directly employs tens of thousands of people while contributing to the oil industry.
Say what you will about the oilsands, but Fort McMurray has been good to us during times of hardship, and has helped many a Canadian find stable work and employment.
Now, those people are living in uncertainty, because their schools, homes or places of work may not be standing or livable when they return – due to smoke, fire damage, water damage or are just gone.
They don’t know what is going to happen to them, or what they’ll be going back to, if they can go back at all. The fire has veered away from the city for the moment, but we know homes have been destroyed and we don’t know when people can go back.
Luckily, Canadians have proven that you are the exception, and generous donations and support have been pouring in.
Syrian refugees are repaying the kindness given to them, people are opening their homes, restaurants have been giving away free meals, and donations from around the country are overwhelming volunteers.
Even other countries want to help; Russia, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US have all offered to lend a hand.
Fort McMurray needs your help, not your condemnation.