The fire damaged 2,400 structures (Photo: Andrew Faiz/Presbyterian Record)

When fire struck Fort McMurray in early May of 2016, tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and fled north and south of the city. Fuelled by extreme temperatures, high humidity and tinder-dry forest, the wildfires crossed highways and jumped wide rivers to burn on many fronts within the limits of Fort McMurray.

While 85% of the city survived the fire, 2,400 structures were damaged and destroyed—most being single-family homes. Thankfully, the hospital, municipal buildings, most schools and critical infrastructure were saved. Faith Presbyterian Church in Fort McMurray’s manse was unaffected, but four families from the church lost their homes.

In response to the devastation, Presbyterians acted with great generosity and contributed over $280,000. Presbyterian World Service & Development is responding to fill critical long-term rehabilitation needs.

PWS&D is supporting the following initiatives:

  • The Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association lost all of their food stores in the fire. Yet in the immediate aftermath, they faced tremendous need, with over 91% of those who received food between June and July having never used the food bank before. On top of that, many families were forced to eat meals from restaurants because they lacked the basic kitchen items needed to cook at home. Through the food bank association, PWS&D will provide kitchen start-up kits and grocery hampers to uninsured and underinsured residents as they are being rehoused or are re-entering their repaired or rebuilt homes.
  • Borealis Counselling Services—a community-based not-for-profit organization—will be providing individual counselling services to those who experienced significant loss due to the fire and are not able to afford the necessary mental health services themselves. With PWS&D support, grief and loss support groups (open to all residents in the area) are also being offered.
  • Waypoints is an organization working to end domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse and homelessness in the region surrounding Fort McMurray. The trauma that a natural disaster causes can lead to both acute and long-term stress that can frequently lead to increased incidences of abuse. Focusing especially on under-served and indigenous communities, PWS&D support will help increase community visits by domestic violence coordinators and support programs for victims of domestic violence. PWS&D, in collaboration with The United Church of Canada, is also providing support for transportation to ensure that remote communities can be accessed by Waypoints.

    Members of Faith Presbyterian Church in Fort McMurray are receiving support (Photo: Andrew Faiz/Presbyterian Record)

  • A benevolent fund will be administered through the Session of Faith Presbyterian Church in Fort McMurray to help meet basic needs following the wildfires. Support will largely take place through the disbursement of funds, grocery vouchers and bus tickets.
  • A contribution will also be made to the Salvation Army in Fort McMurray to help meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable families and individuals in the area.