October 31, 2016 10:57 am
Updated: October 31, 2016 6:05 pm

Fort McMurray wildfire heroes honoured at Alberta Legislature

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On Tuesday, May 3, 2016, nearly 90,000 people fled the city of Fort McMurray as a wildfire raged though the northern Alberta community.

In the long hours, days and weeks that followed, a small army of first responders, fire fighters, municipal planners and other Albertans worked to battle the wildfire and save the city.

As the rebuild continues six months later, a ceremony was held in Edmonton Monday to thank nine first responder organizations who helped fight the flames and assist people affected by the inferno dubbed “The Beast.”

Premier Rachel Notley, along with government officials and leaders of Alberta’s other political parties, hosted the ceremony in the rotunda of the Alberta Legislature.

“Today we reflect on the actions of the hundreds of Albertans who, during the Wood Buffalo wildfire, went above and beyond in the service of their community,” the premier said.

“We honour them for their compassion and courage, at times putting their own safety at risk for the well-being of family, friends and neighbours.”

Several people nominated through the Heroes of the Wildfire online recognition program were also thanked for the way they offered help and hope to residents of Wood Buffalo.

The province said nearly 12,000 individuals were directly involved in the wildfire emergency effort. Countless others, it said, continue to help recovery efforts.

 

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who lost his own home in the fire, became emotional while speaking about the ordeal.

“While tens of thousands of Fort McMurray residents were lined up on Highway 63 and 881, as far as the eye could see… desperate to escape the flames licking at the road side,” he said, pausing while overcome with emotion.

“First responders — RCMP officers, police officers and firefighters — the real heroes, stepped up to the plate and leapt into action. It was only through their amazing, heroic efforts and actions that the people of my hometown escaped the flames.”

Jean also acknowledged the hundreds of everyday Albertans who helped in the weeks that followed.

“You know who you are. These are the people who lined the highways, provided gas, water, food, and drove towards the flames to help our fellow Albertans,” Jean said.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

READ MORE: ‘I want us to recognize the true heroes’: Fire chief shares stories of heroism from Fort McMurray

“It is my privilege to have this opportunity to say thank you to all the heroes who protected the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and who stepped up to help their neighbours in a time of great need,” Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee said. “Their selfless actions, dedication and commitment were symbols of strength and I know they made a real difference in the lives of Wood Buffalo residents.”

The Heroes of the Wildfire online recognition program remains open for submissions until Nov. 28.

While Wood Buffalo regional fire chief Darby Allen was the visible face of the emergency response and received high praise for the way he conducted the firefighting efforts, there were countless others who worked tirelessly during the long, stressful days.

Another group of people worked behind the scenes, co-ordinating the provincial response: the Alberta Wildfire management team.

“The efforts of our wildland firefighters in battling the fire were exceptional,” Oneil Carlier, Alberta’s agriculture minister, said. “As a province we are grateful for their commitment, dedication and hard work in the face of very challenging circumstances.”

READ MORE: The other fire heroes: meet the Alberta Wildfire management team

During the fall session that got underway Monday, the province introduced a bill containing new measures to reduce wildfire risk.

With files from Emily Mertz and Margeaux Morin, Global News

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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