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Fleeing the Beast: Fort McMurray Wildfire

January 27, 2017
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On May 04, 2016 The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo experienced a massive wildfire resulting in a mandatory evacuation of Fort McMurray, and other locations in the Regional Municipality. The wildfire was more than 241,000 hectares and burned its way through a city of over 80,000 people leaving approximately 2400 structures damaged.

SMS Equipment was deeply saddened by the effects from the Fort McMurray wildfires as well as the impact it has had on our employees and their families. It was heartbreaking to see these types of struggles first-hand.

The journey south was surreal for many employees as they drove through an abandoned Fort McMurray. Cars and trucks, out of gas, had been abandoned along the sides of the highway, as the fire still smoldered in areas. Black smoke reduced visibility to only a few dozen meters.

Immediately after being alerted about the evacuation notice, SMS Equipment went into action. The company began reaching out to make contact with displaced employees, making sure they were in a safe place and not in need of rescue. Once this was done, they began to look for ways to support them till they could be settled back in their homes.

Some of our people had no nearby family to stay with. To help those displaced employees, the company worked hard to make sure they could find a place of refuge. Soon after the evacuation order went out, SMS Equipment sent out a notification through its company intranet asking for volunteers to host displaced workers and their families. The response team began matching up displaced Woods Buffalo area employees with coworkers in Edmonton and the surrounding area who had a room or couch to spare. Being able to stay in a home, rather than evacuation centre, helped relieve some of the stress and strain of being away from their community, while also easing the pressure on the province’s rescue and temporary housing services.

In addition to its direct support for its Fort McMurray employees, SMS Equipment donated $100,000 to the Red Cross relief effort to support relief efforts in the community. SMS Equipment’s parent corporation Sumitomo pitched in as well, donating $10,000 to the Woods Buffalo Food Bank.

SMS employees from across Canada joined in with their own donations. In SMS’s East Region (which covers Quebec and Maritime provinces) employees banded together in fundraising efforts to support Fort McMurray. In all, through summer BBQs and pizza sales, they raised $8,203 in individual contributions, every dollar of which was matched by SMS Equipment, East Region.

Even one Fort McMurray employee, Jodi Junka who lives in Valemount, and his sister Jackie, went above and beyond to help. They organized an effort to collect relief supplies collected from both Valemount and nearby McBride areas. All the supplies were gathered in a horse trailer (donated by a Valemount neighbour) and, using Jackie’s truck, began to haul the whole load to Edmonton. The whole effort was nearly stalled by engine trouble, but Jackie and Jodi were not easily discouraged. They headed back to Valemount, found the needed parts, and were back on the road at 2:00 am. They drove through the night to deliver supplies.

SMS Equipment remained optimistic that our local community will stay together and stay strong as The safety of our employees was always the top priority!