Canadian bishop grateful for safe evacuation as residents flee bushfire

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Flames from a wildfire rise in an industrial area of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. The entire city has been evacuated because of the bushfire. Photo: CNS/CBC News via Reuters
Flames from a bushfire rise in an industrial area of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. The entire city has been evacuated because of the fire. Photo: CNS/CBC News via Reuters

As firefighters fought to save the Canadian town of Fort McMurray from a bushfire that threatened to destroy the northern Alberta city, a bishop gave thanks that there had been no loss of life.

St Paul Bishop Paul Terrio, whose diocese includes Fort McMurray, also said in a May 4 statement that the city’s St Paul Church is rumoured to have been destroyed in the blaze that forced the evacuation of the city’s entire population the previous day. There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Bishop Terrio said that with the community still in shock from the damage in Fort McMurray, “Let us give thanks to our Lord and God that, with some 60,000-70,000 people evacuated from the community in a matter of hours, there has been no loss of life.”

“Really, this in itself constitutes a major achievement,” the bishop said. “I want to thank and commend all the security and firefighting services, the public authorities but especially the good people of Fort McMurray. Once again, the people of Fort McMurray have rallied together and reached out to help and protect each other.”

Students from Fort McMurray Composite High School are released early as a bushfire burns in nearby Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Photo: CNS/Kangen Lee via Reuters
Students from Fort McMurray Composite High School are released early as a bushfire burns in nearby Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Photo: CNS/Kangen Lee via Reuters

The entire neighbourhood of Beacon Hill appeared to be lost, according to local officials, while the fire had spread to other neighbourhoods. Officials said they feared the fire could worsen.

Bishop Terrio said that as the full extent of loss and damage becomes to be known, the whole community would be called upon to help rebuild and resettle the city. The diocese planned a second collection at all Masses on 7-8 May as a first step for the relief effort and to support all those who lost their homes.

“This fire disaster is a hard blow at a time when Fort McMurray is already struggling under an adverse economic situation,” wrote Bishop Terrio, noting the economic slowdown with the worldwide drop in oil prices that has severely affected the local economy in the heart of Canada’s oil country.

“But with our faith, our hope and our love for each other, we shall, as a young local evacuee said on Facebook last night, build a ‘better Fort McMurray’,” he said.