FORT McMURRAY, ALBERTA, CANADA
Nearly a month after more than 88,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, due to a raging wildfire, residents are beginning to return. Among them are members of the Wood Buffalo Ward.
Edmonton Alberta North Stake President Gordon V. Garside said all members have been accounted for. Ten Latter-day Saint families lost their homes to the blaze which destroyed 2,400 structures throughout the community, nearly 10 percent of the city. The Church meetinghouse was unharmed, despite being located in one of the heavily damaged neighborhoods of Beacon Hill.
The forest fire, nicknamed "The Beast" by firefighters and authorities, burned close to 590,000 hectares, or about 1.5 million acres, throughout the month of May. The Canadian newspaper The Edmonton Journal reported that the fire was currently "being held" and was 88 percent contained, meaning the fire is not expected to grow past expected boundaries.
President Garside explained that since June 1, members are returning in stages. While some have been able to return to their homes, others whose homes are located in the hardest-hit areas, including the Church meetinghouse, have been restricted due to concerns about toxicity levels.
The Saints in Fort McMurray have experienced an "outpouring of love and concern" throughout the evacuation, President Garside said, and many individual acts of service. In the coming weeks as individuals and families continue to trickle in, President Garside said the stake's priority will be to assist them in returning to their homes and rebuilding their lives, in conjunction with providing assistance to the community.
"The members [in Fort McMurray] are faithful, hardy Latter-day Saints who will recover from this tragedy and come back even stronger," he said.