Fort McMurray: worst times, best moments



Sometimes, the worst times create the best moments.

My nominee, among many, for last week’s best moment is a Calgary woman named Rita Khanchat.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with those worst times.

One week ago today (Tuesday), Wildfire MWF-009 — now colloquially and correctly known as “The Beast” — flared out of control in too-dry-for-too-long woods southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta, leaped a kilometre over the Athabaska River and wreaked nature’s havoc on Canada’s quintessential frontier town.

CBC Graphic

CBC Graphic

It became impossible to update the “as big as” analogies as the insatiable fire routinely doubled its daily torched earth toll — 500, 1,000 sq. km….; swallowed 1,600 homes; scattered 80,000 residents, even babies in the process of being born; exhausted the inexhaustible  attention of more than 500 firefighters and hundreds of pieces of sophisticated-but-no-match-for-this fire-fighting equipment… and shows no sign it’s ready to stop raging.

Perhaps it’s because of this disaster’s hard-to-contemplate scale, perhaps because so many of us, particularly in Atlantic Canada, have friends or family in Fort Mac. Regardless, the response was massive and instantaneous. Within three days, donations to Red Cross relief topped $30 million.

Musicians do what musicians do. Tonight, in Halifax, Ben Kaplan will stage a benefit concert at the Carleton. Proceeds from Rapper Classified’s latest song, Working Away, will support disaster relief. So will this week’s online take at Halifax-based Groundswell Music.

Some gestures were personal. An Ottawa bridal shop donated two wedding gowns to an about-to-be bride who’d had to leave her own dress behind during the evacuation. A friend of another woman, nine months pregnant — who lost her house, including a just-finished nursery, as well as her car to the flames — posted an online appeal. She raised $11,000 within the day; many promised donations of cribs and baby supplies.

And then there’s Rita Khanchant, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Calgary with her family, but little else, in December. “Canadians have provided us with everything and now we have a duty,” she wrote on a private Facebook page last week. “Get ready, it’s time to fulfill.” The refugees weren’t able to offer much —$500–$1,000 — but they did what they could. Because they wanted to help too.

Worst times. Best moments.

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