Cole Francoeur was working as a journeyman electrician with Ledcore Group in Fort McMurray when the call came in last week to evacuate 80,000 residents from the city because a raging wildfire was headed their way.
“People started trying to get in all the camps because they had nowhere to go,” said Francoeur, originally from Port Alberni.
He and other workers staying at McClelland Lake Lodge in Fort Hills, about 80 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, relinquished their rooms as the lodge became a refuge for more than 1,000 residents escaping the fires.
“There were people crying and families crying in the lobby and we went to the front desk and volunteered our rooms for them,” he said.
“Since we did that we got a bus at 2 a.m. and they flew us out.”
Francoeur said he left his scheduled work shift 10 days earlier than usual because of the fires but assumes he will go back to work as normal in about three weeks. “My old house I lived in is burnt, it’s pretty crazy.”
Other Port Alberni residents working in Fort Mac have returned, family members are sheltering relatives from the ravaged city, and others have gone to Fort Mac to help.
Coulson Aviation’s Sikorsky S-61’s was contracted by the Province of Alberta to fight the fires in Fort McMurray but the Martin Mars water bomber has not been deployed.
The lack of deployment of the water bomber has caused many folks to express their frustrations on social media.
Due to the large public interest, owner Wayne Coulson posted a response on Facebook.
“We understand the frustration of the public, especially in a case like this where a fire is consuming property and threatening lives,” Coulson wrote.
Coulson provided three main reasons why the 70-year-old plane isn’t in Fort McMurray.
The Alberta government has not requested the presence of the Martin Mars, Coulson wrote, adding that a C-130 was offered to be made available immediately.
“Next to the Mars at 7200 USG, our C-130’s are the largest propeller driven air tankers in the world with a 4400 USG capacity,” he wrote.
Secondly, Coulson added that in the firefighting business it is the government that has operational control of the aircraft.
“No aircraft operator in the world can simply go and put out a fire, even if they wanted to and if someone ever did, they would be facing serious criminal charges,” Coulson wrote.
Finally, Coulson wrote that the Mars is under its yearly inspection and it has been decided to take the aircraft to the Oshkosh Air Show in late July in hopes of finding another business or home for it.
A crowdfunding initiative by Black Press called BlackPress4Good offers several campaigns to those who want to help support the damaging wildfires in Fort McMurray. Visit blackpress4good.com and search Fort McMurray.
Highway 4 Band has also planned a music benefit for the Red Cross on Sunday, May 15, 1 p.m. at Harbour Quay.
Bring your lawn chair.