FREDERICTON – The Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfire feels like a local disaster for Atlantic Canadians, who have spent anxious hours waiting for word on family and friends.
Much of the Fort Mac workforce comes from the east coast, and there are few Atlantic Canadians who aren’t close to someone who lives there, or have lived there themselves.
“It’s just devastating. My stomach is just in knots even thinking about it out there,” said Jeremy Douthwright, who worked in Fort McMurray for three years before returning to New Brunswick a year ago to run an auto repair shop.
“I talked to my old roommates that I lived with just about a year ago in Beacon Hill and that house is gone. All of Beacon Hill is gone,” he said.
Social media on the East Coast is buzzing with comments from people shocked by the pictures, videos and stories coming out of Alberta as the flames continued to burn.
Others were making contact with loved ones affected by the fire.
“My family there have lost everything. My heart is breaking for everyone there,” wrote one woman from Dartmouth, N.S.
It has been said that Fort McMurray is Newfoundland and Labrador’s second-largest city, and one columnist suggested Wednesday you could say the same about Cape Breton.
On Wednesday, Premier Dwight Ball said from St. John’s: “The wildfire that is currently raging in Alberta and those impacted, including the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living and working there, are foremost in our thoughts today.”
“Although these events are taking place in Alberta, the effects are being felt in every community on Prince Edward Island,” P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan said in the legislature.
Added New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant: “Historically, our two provinces have had an important relationship and many New Brunswickers who reside or have family there have been directly impacted by this event. We are concerned for their safety.”
Michael de Adder, a freelance editorial cartoonist whose work appears in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald and the Toronto Star, said he felt compelled Wednesday to draw a cartoon expressing his feelings.
On a vacation flight to Toronto, he sat next to a couple from Atlantic Canada who were headed to Alberta to help, while the person sitting on the other side of him had family in Fort McMurray.
He said that speaks to the impact of Fort McMurray on the Atlantic provinces.
“I think if you walked into any Tim Hortons in Atlantic Canada, the same thing would be true. There would be people affected closely to what’s happening today.”
He took out his sketch pad, and by the time he landed, de Adder had drawn two out-stretched arms – one from Fort McMurray and the other from Atlantic Canada – with hands clenched in support.
De Adder sent the cartoon out on Twitter as soon as he landed.
“Fort McMurray has helped us out financially over the years, it’s the least we can do to help them out,” he said.
For Douthwright, he said it’s difficult when you know so many people suffering losses and there’s little he can do to help.
He said some of his friends were stuck on the highway for seven hours in an effort to get out of Fort McMurray and to a place they could stay.
“No fuel left anywhere and mass panic as everyone tries to get out. I spoke to one of my friends and she sent me a picture of the Abasand blaze and said her house was gone,” he said.
“It’s tough because we can’t just hop in our vehicles and go help them or give them stuff, but our support and them knowing that we’re here for them will help.”