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May 16, 2016
Stephen Lazarus

We continue to hear stories of thousands who were forced to evacuate Fort McMurray, Alberta when a massive wildfire swept the city and surrounding areas. To find out how residents are coping, we spoke to Fort McMurray residents, Jim McCleod and Lori Read.

Stephen@CONTEXT: When did you know you had to evacuate your home in Fort McMurray, Alberta—and how did that go?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Lori was getting ready to go to work her last night shift about 3:30pm on the afternoon of May 3. Our telephone rang and our friend told us to pack up as we had to leave town. We got into her car and left Ft. McMurray on highway 63 northbound. I heard the evacuation alert siren but, like a lot of people, assumed it was a test. I was then informed to pack a bag and get out to the car as quickly as possibly.

Stephen@CONTEXT: What are you feeling now that you are safe with extended family?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Jim feels relieved and at peace. Lori is still tired and recovering and happy to be with her daughter in Saskatchewan.

Stephen@CONTEXT: Have you ever experienced anything else like this in your life?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Lori went through another fire incident at Syncrude Aurora in 2011 that was catastrophic. It lasted about a month. I am fortunate in that I have never had to deal with this kind of incident before.

Stephen@CONTEXT: Jim, before this fire, you had already lost almost all of your eyesight. And you lead the compassionate care ministries and several other ministries at your church. How has this fire affected families and friends you and lori know in Ft. McMurray?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: We have friends that have lost all of their earthly possessions and we are all currently scattered across Canada. We have lost touch with each other. Since losing the majority of my vision, I have tried to lead by example. I maintain a positive mental attitude and always look for the silver lining where I can. My Christian faith helps with this, I will seek to maintain this approach when we return home to Ft. McMurray. I like to hear people laugh. My vision problem is not an excuse to sit and wait.

Stephen@CONTEXT: When are you being told you can go back home?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: There will be a regulated plan for return to be released in the next two weeks. It appears that it will be 4 to 6 weeks before we will be returning home.

Stephen@CONTEXT: It appears that much of the infrastructure—schools, the hospital, and water treatment plant has been spared. How do you think this tragedy will change the community going forward?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: I think that we will return to basics for a while. Things will revolve around the original Ft. McMurray town site. The suburban communities will begin to spring alive again.

Stephen@CONTEXT: How have you felt the presence of God during this difficult time for your family?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: We have felt very brave, courageous, strong and fearless in the face of chaos.
We have gone from glory to glory to glory, from miracle to miracle to miracle. This has been a holy spirit-led event from start to finish. God’s glory and manifest power will be demonstrated through out Ft. McMurray and the mining communities for the balance of this year.

During the evacuation there were no ethnic boundaries, we all helped each other whenever, wherever. We are all Ft. McMurray people and we helped our neighbours.

Stephen@CONTEXT: This fire has led to an outpouring of generosity by Canadians from coast-to-coast. How can people help those families you know who have been directly affected by the fires?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Coast-to-coast people have responded to this disaster through their generosity in giving. The people of Ft. McMurray will need prayer and guidance in the coming days as we await return and the beginning of the restoration of our lives. Lori and I pray that God’s presence will be felt throughout our community.

Stephen@CONTEXT: How has your faith been impacted by this tragedy?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Jim’s faith has been strenghtened through the open, heartfelt way that the community responded in assisting everyone during the evacuation. Ethnic lines disappeared and it was brother and sister helping brother and sister, regardless of race, colour, or religion. Truly, God walked among us all as we responded to leaving.

Stephen@CONTEXT: Where have you seen Christian faith in action in response to this disaster?

Jim McCleod and Lori Read: Christian faith has been in action through it all even if people don't realize that they are being Christian. It has been as simple as “here is gas for a vehicle” to “ I’ll help you find your son.” People taking care of people and when asked why they help, the answer is as simple as “why not” or “because.” I responded when a Christian brother brought a friend that, although not Christian, felt the need for prayer. Christians have put their faith into action by walking the walk and talking the walk, by going out of their way to help others.

I would like to thank all of those that assisted me and my family and all of the evacuees during this time. The opening of camps, the food, the toiletries and all of the patience when 80,000 people showed up and asked for supper and accommodation. They all answered the call amazingly well. Fort McMurray will rise from the ashes even better than before. We are family!


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