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Parishes rally to the support of wildfire evacuees

13 May 2016


Fire and ashes: a Mountie surveys the damage

Fire and ashes: a Mountie surveys the damage

EVACUEES from a wildfire in Alberta, Canada, are being supported by Anglican parishioners.

The entire population of Fort McMurray — 88,000 people — fled the remote oil town last week, after a fire that began on 1 May prompted a mandatory evacuation order. Fuelled by winds and high temperatures, the blaze grew to the size of Mexico City, and a state of emergency was declared. No casualties have been reported to date, but two people died in a road crash along the evacuation route. Alberta’s government estimated on Sunday that the fire has consumed 161,000 hectares.

Cooler temperatures aided the efforts of firefighters this week, and on Monday, the Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, said that 2400 buildings had burned within the town, and almost 25,000 had been saved. It would be weeks before the town was made safe, she said.

The Bishop of Athabasca, the Rt Revd Fraser Lawton, thanked people on Facebook for their prayers and offers of help. Parishes in Lac La Biche, Athabasca, and Boyle were hosting evacuees, he said, and in the forthcoming days would act as “co-ordinating centres for help and support for evacuees and the community of Fort McMurray”. It was “awesome to see the way Albertans are reaching out to help people”.

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has sent $15,000 to the diocese. Supplies of food, water, clothing, toiletries, and bedding are being collected. Bishop Lawton told the Fund that a priest had reported a “desperate need for socks and underwear and everything”, and that stores were empty. The Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander, praised the response of the parishioners supporting the evacuees housed in Lac La Biche, a small town usually home to just 2500 people.

On Sunday, the two Bishops met at a service at St Augustine’s, Edmonton. Bishop Lawton described afterwards how clergy had been “incredible in ministering to parishioners and reaching out to care for evacuees”.

The Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Fred Hiltz, has issued prayers for those affected at a “terrifying time”.

The leader of the Green Party in Canada, Elizabeth May, said last week that climate change was “of course” linked to the fire.

“Scientists will say we know with a destabilised climate, with a higher average global temperature, we will see more frequent, more extreme weather events . . . due to an erratic climate, due to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

The Roman Catholic Bishop of St Paul, Alberta, the Rt Revd Paul Terrio, said in a statement that St Paul’s, Fort McMurray, was rumoured to have been destroyed. He thanked God, and the security services, that nobody had been killed in the fire.

“This fire disaster is a hard blow at a time when Fort McMurray is already struggling under an adverse economic situation,” he said. “But with our faith, our hope, and our love for each other, we shall, as a young local evacuee said on Facebook last night, build a ‘better Fort McMurray’.”

Reuters reports that the town had already been “crippled” by a collapse in oil prices, and had been “haemorrhaging workers and wealth for 18 months”. A remote town, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, Fort McMurray is the centre of the oil-sands industry in Canada. The fire resulted in the shut down of half of the country’s oil-sands capacity, Reuters estimates.

The Rector of All Saints’, Fort McMurray, the Revd Dane Neufeld, believes that the two Anglican churches in the town are still standing. On Wednesday, he described to Anglican Journal how he had fled north with his family.

“It was raining cinders, and the whole horizon was on fire, basically,” he said. “We have four kids, and we have twin babies; so it wasn’t the most relaxing ride. We’re all driving away, and in the rear-view mirror the city is on fire, and you are wondering what is going to happen. It was crazy.”

The Priest-in-Charge of St Paul’s, Boyle, the Revd Lesley Wheeler-Dame, said: “The only thing we have to [help us] get our heads around this is a war situation, where an entire city is destroyed — that’s the closest thing I can think of.”

Donations can also be made through the “Canada Helps” button, on dioath.ca (lower left side, then insert “Fort McMurray Wildfire Relief” from the drop-down menu).

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