Central Albertans continue to give in wake of fires

Central Albertans continue to give generously to those affected by the wildfires that tore through the town of Slave Lake.

“We’ve had a lot of support from people who have brought in donations and we’ve had a lot of phone calls as well,” said Rob Rolston, coordinator of program and support services for the Canadian Red Cross in Red Deer. “The support has been very steady.”

On May 15, out of control wildfires devastated the town of Slave Lake. The fires in the area quickly spread as winds upwards of 80 kms/h blew and pushed the flames into the town. Hundreds of homes and structures including the municipality’s hospital and town hall were destroyed.

Nearly all 7,000 residents of Slave Lake have been evacuated from the area and many are left wondering if they will have a home to return to. Provincial officials have said the fire has destroyed 40% of the town. No deaths or injuries have been reported.

The town remains under an evacuation order.

Premier Ed Stelmach announced last week that the province has approved an initial allocation of $50 million towards the immediate needs of the evacuees and the rebuilding of Slave Lake and surrounding communities.

The money will be under the authority of the Deputy Minister Task Force appointed by Stelmach to coordinate recovery efforts.

“The unprecedented wildfire disaster in Slave Lake and the surrounding area has touched all Albertans,” he said. “This funding is an important first step on the road to rebuilding the community.”

The funding will initially focus on the immediate housing, income support and other needs of the evacuated residents. Government of Alberta officials have been at the evacuation centres to assist residents in assessing their needs and beginning the process of rebuilding the community.

As of May 22, there were 44 wildfires in Alberta, eight of which were out of control. Since the start of April, Alberta has recorded approximately 500 wildfires, which have burned more than 300,000 hectares.

The wildfire in Slave Lake was still listed as out of control and has burned about 4,559 hectares.

A fire ban is in place across the province on all land in Alberta. The fire ban includes a ban on fireworks, and in place until further notice.

Exceptions are federal lands (such as national parks) where there are no fire control agreements, and First Nations reserves outside of forest protection areas. Urban municipalities such as cities, towns, villages and summer villages are also exempt. Urban municipalities are encouraged to consider fire bans in their jurisdictions. For current fire ban information, visit www.albertafirebans.ca.

Meanwhile, the local branch of the Canadian Red Cross is currently accepting cash donations for the victims of the Slave Lake fire.

To donate to the Canadian Red Cross call 1-800-418-1111 or visit their web site at www.redcross.ca. Also stop by their office in Red Deer at 5301– 43 St.