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‘I just felt like I needed to’: North Carolina man drives to Edmonton to help fire evacuees

Watch Above Sun, May 29 - He's got no connection to Fort McMurray or Alberta but after hearing about the devastating wildfires one North Carolina man decide to jump into his car and travel all the way north-- to help. Julia Wong reports.

When Jim McGrath heard about the Fort McMurray wildfire, he knew he wanted to do help but what he ended up doing is quite unique.

McGrath hails from near Raleigh, North Carolina. He jumped into his car and drove across the United States and north to Edmonton to volunteer.

“I just felt like I needed to,” he said when asked why he travelled about 4,000 kilometres.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: ‘We expect weeks, if not months, fighting this fire’

McGrath has no connection to the Fort McMurray fire. He has no friends or family in Edmonton or the rest of the province and has only been to Canada a handful of times.

He arrived in Edmonton last Wednesday and immediately went to work his first volunteer shift.
He arrived in Edmonton last Wednesday and immediately went to work his first volunteer shift. Julia Wong/Global News

“I have been following the news – both broadcast news and on the Internet – (for) what’s been going on, and I wanted to help,” he said matter-of-factly.

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The 57-year-old said something about the nature of the Fort McMurray fire – the size of the fire and the displacement of 80,000 people – compelled him to act.

McGrath, who said he has never volunteered before, jumped at the chance to volunteer with the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society.

He arrived in Edmonton last Wednesday and immediately went to work his first volunteer shift. He plans to work until he leaves for North Carolina this coming Wednesday.

READ MORE: Phased re-entry into Fort McMurray after wildfire to begin June 1

McGrath has lived through natural disasters before – in 1996, Hurricane Fran tore through North Carolina and McGrath found himself in its path.

“When it made landfall, it decided to go northwest, which put the eye of it 10 miles east of where we live. Two hours inland, it was still packing 110 miles an hour gusts,” he said.

“Obviously we lost our power. We lost our water because we’re on a well. We counted 38 trees down on the yard but fortunately none on the house.”

McGrath said the hurricane could have played a factor in why he decided to come to Edmonton. He calls Canada and the United States “neighbours.”

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He has filled his hours with volunteer shifts at the distribution donation centre and said his encounters with fire evacuees have encouraged him.

“One guy I met… his house was incinerated. He says, ‘it’s a house, I got insurance.’ The people that I have been meeting, they seem to galvanize me, energize me,” he said.

“It’s been a good experience. It’s been a humbling experience.”

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McGrath downplays the uniqueness of his story but said he hopes there is something others take away from hearing it.

“We’re all in it together. It’s called the human race. It helps just to help each other. Just get involved, do good deeds and the rest will take care of itself.”