Henry Visscher and Gary Duthler, volunteers with World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS), accompanied some of the residents into the disaster area. A few homeowners found that their houses were miraculously untouched, but most people could only stand at a distance and peer through a safety fence at the debris.
Fire officials report that more then 1,500 homes were totally destroyed in Fort McMurray.
“I am glad to finally see what’s left of the place,” one resident said, “but I can’t even get closure at this point. Taking photos of my burned property from behind a fence is really difficult. I am looking forward to figuring out what comes next, but right now I am just in shock.”
Many residents have not had access to their homes since the fire because of health risks from exposure to the toxic ash and chemical contaminants. In the next few weeks homeowners, accompanied by trained professionals, will be able to walk through their property to sift through their belongings. Those at risk for contamination will be required to wear breathing masks and hazmat suits.
“The recovery work is focused on immediate clean up right now,” Harry Duthler said. “It’s being carried out by organizations that specialize in toxic ash removal. It’s different then damage from a flood or storm when a lot of people can help immediately.”
Fire officials report that more then 1,500 homes were totally destroyed in Fort McMurray. In some locations, entire subdivisions were burned down. “It’s traumatic for homeowners to face the reality of their losses,” said DRS volunteer Henry Visscher. “Seeing your own home, and then entire blocks of homes burned to the ground is devastating.”
Thankfully, evacuees are well-served by churches, families, friends, and businesses across Alberta. These local volunteers are providing housing, food, clothing, respite care, and other essential services. The Alberta government is also providing well organized and much needed support.
World Renew DRS is working with Evergreen Community CRC in Fort McMurray and the Northern Alberta Diaconate of the Christian Reformed Church to provide physical and emotional support to fire survivors and is ready to help as the response unfolds.
“We are thankful that the evacuees are well resourced,” Visscher said, “but experience tells us that people who are most at risk can fall through the cracks in the longer term. Those who are elderly, disabled, and low-income are often under- or un-insured. These are the people World Renew DRS prioritizes for assistance.”
"For now, we are focusing on ‘the ministry of presence,’ monitoring people’s needs and coordinating with authorities for opportunities to engage in short- and long-term recovery.”
As Fort McMurray residents continue to return to their homes, they are wrestling with what is, or is not, left of their lives and possessions. In this time, World Renew DRS is also at work with local and provincial officials, other response agencies, and churches to help plan when and where people’s homes can start to be rebuilt.
“There are many details that need to be worked out as Fort McMurray residents work through the initial response to this disaster to long-term recovery,” said Andrew Ryskamp, interim director for World Renew DRS. “Long-term recovery, including housing reconstruction, is a specialization for World Renew DRS and our volunteer efforts. This means that for now, we are focusing on ‘the ministry of presence,’ monitoring people’s needs and coordinating with authorities for opportunities to engage in short- and long-term recovery.”
Right now, World Renew DRS is exploring the possibility of an unmet needs assessment which would take place after residents determine the scope of the damage done to their home, and the government assistance and insurance settlement they will receive.