Watching coverage of the disastrous wildfire tearing through his hometown of Fort McMurray, Alta., there was one scene in particular that caught the eye of Drew Wilson — the remains of the Fort Lacroix Arena.
"I grew up playing hockey there with all of my friends," Wilson said.
"Hundreds of us all played hockey there growing up, and now it's just ash, right? It was surreal watching it."
Wilson was born and raised in Fort McMurray, but has lived in Whistler for three years.
"A lot of people I know have all lost their homes," he said.
"One buddy sent me a video that was basically just him leaving his house, just holding his phone filming, and the neighbourhood, you can see that it's all on fire.
"It was like a scene out of a movie. It's crazy."
Wilson — a bartender at Tapley's — spearheaded a fundraiser at the neighbourhood pub, which took place on May 11.
But he's not alone in his efforts — there are more than a few Whistler businesses raising funds for Fort Mac.
The Hilton is hosting a "FlapJacks for Fort Mac" fundraising breakfast on Wednesday, May 18, from 7 to 9:30 a.m. in the Mt. Currie Ballroom.
Entry is by minimum donation of $10, with all proceeds going directly to the Red Cross.
"We are glad to be contributing what we can towards the devastating fires and its effects in Fort McMurray," said the Hilton's director of sales and marketing Lisa St-Amand, in an email.
"Living in a town surrounded by forest as well, we certainly understand how vulnerable we are at the hands of Mother Nature. Our hearts go out to all those affected."
Milestones is planning a cask night for the cause on May 24 — details are still being finalized — and Crepe Montagne is donating $2 for every entrée sold on May 10 to 13 and 17 to 20 to the Red Cross.
"The images on the news of the fire in Fort McMurray are heart wrenching," said Crepe Montagne owner Laurence Foucher-Gagnon. "We wanted to do something in the face of feeling so helpless and came up with this donation as our way of giving back to our neighbours. We hope that the people of Fort McMurray know that they will have the help and support of Canadians across the country."
Cool as a Moose is donating all proceeds from sales of its reusable bags for the whole month of May, while The Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop is holding a raffle in support of Fort Mac on Saturday, May 14. Tickets are $2 and the prize is a $50 candy basket.
Several other businesses — including David's Tea, IGA, Eddie Bauer, Nesters, Creekbread, B.C. Liquor (and probably many more) — are also accepting donations at the till.
Other establishments — like Maxx Fish and COWS — have already held fundraising events.
"It's pretty unreal, man, seeing people from all over Canada helping out," Wilson said.
"I feel like that's just Canada though. Everyone just kind of helps each other."
Individuals can donate to the Red Cross at www.redcross.ca, by calling 1-800-418-1111 or by texting REDCROSS to 30333 ($5 will be charged to your phone bill).
'UNHAPPY SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES' PUTS THREE WFRS TRUCKS DOWN AT ONCE
With one of its "first-out" Quint fire trucks already down in Vancouver for maintenance, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) was hit with an "unhappy set of circumstances" when its other two Quints broke down on April 30, said WFRS chief Geoff Playfair.
"It was an unhappy set of circumstances, but that's why we have as many vehicles as we have in our fleet," Playfair said, calling the concurrent breakdowns a one-in-10-year event.
The WFRS has seven fire apparatuses in its fleet — three Quints equipped with aerial ladders, two engines, a wildland engine and a rescue vehicle.
"So it might have left us a little short if we needed that aerial device, but really it's rare that we have to have them," Playfair said, adding that the breakdowns had no impact on operations and the trucks were back in service by Monday.
While all eyes are on Fort McMurray, the fire danger rating around Whistler remained moderate as of May 10. WFRS crews are currently brushing up on training and protocol, as well as making sure all equipment is operational ahead of the wildfire season.
Residents are reminded to remain vigilant, use FireSmart techniques on their properties (www.whistler.ca/firesmart), make sure all campfires are properly extinguished after use and report smoke sightings to the WFRS.
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