May 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the Fort McMurray wildfires that made news across the globe.

Families who suffered through the trauma of evacuating, losing their home and possessions, living in temporary housing, seeking out assistance, and wondering what their future holds are finally starting to see their new homes take shape.

“We are thrilled to be a part of giving much-needed hope to the families whose homes we are rebuilding,” said Bob Laarman, director for World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS). “They lost everything and it’s been a long year for them. It is our hope that our presence in Fort McMurray this summer will be an encouragement to others that there is help available to rebuild.”

Some families had insurance and were able to rebuild their homes; others left and have not returned.

Still, there are families without a home. The changing oil economy and other circumstances beyond their control have made it difficult for them to rebuild and return. These are the individuals and families World Renew DRS met with in November 2016 during a needs assessment, and these are the families for whom DRS volunteers are building homes.

Here is a look at the DRS involvement in the Fort McMurray fire recovery:

May 2016: Wildfires forced the entire population of Fort McMurray to evacuate as flames threatened and consumed homes, businesses, and wildlife. Residents drove through walls of fire along the roads as they fled the area. World Renew DRS asked for prayer and financial support as the fires blazed. DRS regional managers for Alberta, Henry and Linda Visscher, began monitoring the situation and making plans to connect with the Fort McMurray community and churches.

June to September 2016: Due to the toxic nature of the fire’s remains, professionals trained in handling hazardous materials provided clean-up services in Fort McMurray. Residents began returning to their homes in June to determine what was left of their home and possessions. World Renew DRS staff and volunteers visited Alberta to meet with evacuees and strengthen relationships with local churches and responders.

The provincial government asked DRS to begin to explore the possibility of completing an unmet needs assessment in the area. DRS connected with representatives of Reformed Church in America and CRC congregations in northern Alberta. They then met with evacuees from Fort McMurray, including Evergreen Community CRC, to discuss their fire-related needs.

World Renew DRS regional managers encouraged the development of NGOs Supporting Uninsured and Underinsured Residents (NSUUR), the local recovery group supporting Fort McMurray’s underinsured and uninsured fire survivors.

November 2016: World Renew DRS volunteers conducted an unmet needs assessment for NSUUR. DRS volunteers met with and called individuals and families to connect them with resources in Fort McMurray that would meet their needs.

January to May 2017: Throughout the winter, DRS staff and regional managers worked out the details of necessary home reconstruction projects in partnership with NSUUR and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). Weekly conference calls with local and provincial partners kept the various partners in close coordination to plan the response efforts.

June to August 2017: DRS volunteers are completing requested home reconstruction services in partnership with MDS and NSUUR.

September 2017 and beyond: World Renew DRS will continue to seek ways to serve Fort McMurray fire survivors.

About the Author

Kellie Scholma, World Renew