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Helping hands show close connections between Okanagan and Fort McMurray

A wall of fire rages outside of Fort McMurray, Alta. Tuesday May 3, 2016 as a wildfire threatened the city. Raging forest fires whipped up by shifting winds sliced through the middle of the remote oilsands hub city of Fort McMurray Tuesday, sending tens of thousands fleeing in both directions and prompting the evacuation of the entire city.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Mary Anne Sexsmith-Segato
May 04, 2016 - 4:54 PM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - While the country watches the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray in shock, it’s a little closer to home for many families in the Okanagan — many of their people are also our people.

No one knows for sure how many, but before the oil crash, Kelowna International Airport pegged the number of Okanagan residents flying to Northern Alberta for work at roughly 5,000. While that number is significantly reduced, chances are you know someone from the Thompson-Okanagan who was among the roughly 80,000 people evacuated from the city. More than 1,600 homes and structures were destroyed by a wildfire which makes local wildfire emergencies over the past 20 years look minor in scale.

Kelowna International Airport took the lead for many Okanagan communities in developing relationships with businesses in Fort Mac, airport manager Sam Samaddar says.

"We developed over the last three or four years quite a strong linkage because we are working on developing air service between our two communities," he says.

That close connection led to fast action to send relief today. WestJet had a regular flight scheduled for Fort McMurray but the airport was closed today to assist firefighters. Instead, WestJet decided to send the plane to nearby Firebag Airport where many evacuated residents have taken refuge and it was filled with supplies, largely by businesses that work closely with the airport. In addition to bottled water, B.C. Tree Fruits and De Simone Farms sent boxes of B.C. fruit, sandwiches prepared by the Bread Co. and other businesses and they rounded up kennels and crates for cats and dogs from Bark N Fly and the Kelowna SPCA.

"It was great to see the airport community come together and see everyone come together," he says. "We had limited time to pull it all together."

That's not the only way Okanagan residents are helping though. 

Starting today, May 4, all B.C. Liquor Stores will be accepting donations of $2, $5 or more to help the Red Cross in Alberta reunite family members, provide evacuees
with shelter, food and water, and later, assist with longer-term needs as the community rebuilds.

"We are proud of our partnership with the Red Cross, and the generosity always shown by our customers and employees during times of crisis," Blain Lawson, general manager and CEO, B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch says. "By collecting donations at B.C. Liquor Stores, we're providing an easy way for people to reach out and help our neighbours in Alberta."

The OK Corral and Cabaret in Kelowna has set up a GoFundMe page with proceeds going towards victims of the fire and other organizations are also contributing in various ways.

Residents are also doing what they can for anyone who is in need of a place to stay.

 

Executive director of the West Kelowna and Kelowna Community Food Banks posted a link to the local Fort McMurray food bank, calling them 'part of the family'.

Image Credit: Facebook

WestJet and the Kelowna International Airport announced on Facebook they would be sending an airplane full of supplies they collected from several Kelowna businesses.

Local Penticton resident Debbie Rushton and her husband recently moved back to Penticton after living in the northern Alberta community for seven years.

They are devastated about what’s happening to their former neighbourhood, and their friends and are raising donations. You can call her cell phone at 780-742-7080 her landline at 250-492-2505.

“Once I see what I can accumulate, I’ll make arrangements to get the supplies to Edmonton,” she says.

She’s planning to contact friends in Edmonton who own a trucking business to see if arrangements can be made to move the goods from there to Fort McMurray.

In Kamloops the local Domino's Pizza is offering free pizzas to any displaced families staying in Kamloops.

To make a donation to help those affected by the Fort McMurray fire, visit one of these websites.

RED CROSS: The Canadian Red Cross is accepting monetary donations through their website. A $5 donation can also be made by texting REDCROSS to 30333.

SALVATION ARMY: The Salvation Army is collecting monetary donations online. It says it will provide food, clothing and shelter, among its emergency services.

SAMARITAN'S PURSE: The Samaritan's Purse says it is assembling a team that will head to Fort McMurray to provide physical and emotional help once the evacuation order on the city is lifted. It is accepting monetary donations through its website.

WOOD BUFFALO FOOD BANK: The Wood Buffalo Food Bank, which serves the regional municipality which includes Fort McMurray, is taking PayPal donations through its website.

AIRBNB: Airbnb has activated its Disaster Response Tool, encouraging its host community around Edmonton to help displaced residents with free housing. The tool, on offer until May 21, allows existing hosts and local residents with extra space to host people through Airbnb for free.

FORT McMURRAY SPCA: The Fort McMurray SPCA is working with partners and local authorities to reunite displaced residents with pets they were forced to leave behind. It is accepting monetary donations online.

**LANGUAGE ADVISORY**


To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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