By Eric Elliott

Pioneer Staff

Residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta had their worst dreams realized on May 3rd as an out-of-control wildfire ripped through the city and surrounding area, destroying thousands of homes in its wake.

That Tuesday afternoon, the city was placed under mandatory evacuation with 80,000 people forced to flee from their homes, with warnings, in some cases, of only 30 minutes. As of May 10th, the fire, stretching over 85,000 hectares, destroyed 2,400 buildings with 25,000 saved by relief efforts.

In the Columbia Valley, local businesses are joining together to do what they can to help their Alberta neighbours. Invermere Home Hardware, for example, is collecting materials to bring to the thousands affected by the tragedy.

Owner Al Miller said the team at Home Hardware decided quickly to begin collecting new clothing, non-perishables, cash and gift certificates to be personally delivered to a location that is best suited for drop-off. He said the decision to help the people of Fort McMurray was an easy one for him and his team.

We believe, that in a lot of cases, we are the vacation spot for a lot of those people who work there so we believe we have a very close connection, Mr. Miller said, mentioning that he knows a fellow Home Hardware owner in Fort McMurray who was forced to leave his place of business like everyone else. To date, the store has raised nearly $600 in cash with a full skid of materials to deliver.

Certainly your hearts go out to them and you just suddenly realize that, Hey, we can do something here,we can step up and we can be a part of it.

Similar to Home Hardware, the Sobeys grocery store in Invermere is also collecting money and is delivering much-needed supplies to the people of Fort McMurray. The Sobeys chain has also pledged to match all monetary donations to the Red Cross up to $100,000. Real Storage has been collecting toilet paper, personal hygiene items, infant supplies, blankets and towels, as well as footwear and suitcases/backpacks, and items can be dropped off at their site in Windermere. A truck carrying supplies left for Edmonton on May 10th. Real Storage stores across Alberta and in Windermere are also offering one-month free storage for any residents who need to store items after fleeing the fire.

Global Animal Lovers (GALs), the local not-for-profit organization that advocates for animal rescue and safety, have also joined the effort, creating a document located on their Facebook page for people to fill out if they are able to provide emergency animal placement for pets and livestock that currently have no place to go.

The Station Pub and Invermere Fire Rescue will also be hosting a fundraiser on Friday May 20th at 8 p.m. at The Station Pub to support the victims of the fires.

Mr. Miller said its been automatic for people in the valley to help out in supporting Fort McMurray.

Weve got a hugely caring community here and with whats transpired up there, this is a huge tragedy for a lot of people, he said. People in Invermere and the Columbia Valley have a heart so theyre going to get taken care of. These are our friends and we want to make sure they get taken care of.