Hundreds of properties lost as Fort McMurray burns

Hotel chain offers free lodging as 1,600 homes go up in flames

Western Investor
May 4, 2016

Fire ravages a housing complex in Fort McMurray on May 2. - Mark Hussey

Zainul and Shazam Holdings is offering free hotel lodging to Fort McMurray evacuees as an out-of-control wildfire rips through the oil town city in northeast Alberta.

At least 1,600 homes have been lost, according to a wildfire update from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on May 3.

“Time to evacuate” tweeted Dave Paterson, a surveyor from Victoria, B.C. as he fled the city May 2. Patterson and his crew were evacuated to an industrial site east of the city.

An entire evacuation of the city of 88,000 – the largest in Alberta history - was ordered as the 10,000-hectare wildfire swept into housing subdivisions and even reaching into the downtown.

Edmonton-based Zainul and Shazam Holdings is offering complimentary accommodation to any Fort McMurray residents with picture identification and a Fort McMurray address. The group owns Holiday Inn hotels in the Hinton, Edson and Red Deer area.

Closer to ground zero, the community of Lac La Biche, 218 kilometres south of Fort McMurray,  has opened a community centre to house refugees.

McMurray resident Natasha Bowman and her family were the first to arrive at the Bold Centre in Lac La Biche County, where county officials have set up a reception area for evacuees.

Bowman’s home is in Gregoire, a neighbourhood on the south end of Fort McMurray, and one of the first to be given an evacuation notice. She described the chaos in Fort McMurray as evacuees tried to flee, turning Highway 63 into gridlock both northbound and southbound.

In the fray she and other members of her extended family were separated, with some ending up going north, and some travelling south. She arrived in Lac La Biche shortly after 7 pm May 2, and said the situation in the city on the way out was dire.

“It's jam packed, everybody was trying to get out,” she said. “I've seen some pretty big fires, but I've never seen one where the whole town is burning up. I've never seen anything like this before.” She praised Lac La Biche residents.

 “They’ve been really great – they gave us numbers for campgrounds, hotels, they gave us water, they’re trying to get us some food,” she said. “Everybody’s been really great so far since we got in town. We’re blessed for that.”

While she’s figured out temporary accommodations for the time being, her thoughts are still back in her home in Fort McMurray. She said she isn’t sure anything of hers will be left once the flames are extinguished.

“We probably don’t have anything to go home to now, everything’s burning flat to the ground,” she said adding that for now she’s just looking for some food and some sleep. “I guess now it’s just seeing about getting somewhere to sleep, getting a little bite to eat, because we haven’t eaten anything all day, we’ve hardly slept.”

Lac La Biche County residents able to offer assistance to evacuees are directed to call (780) 623-6369.

- With files from Lac La Biche Post

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