The 88,000

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Photo Courtesy Mel Angelstad

As I begin to write this, I sit 30,000 feet in the air above the empty city of Fort McMurray. A place where for the past week my boots have been on the ground fighting the most merciless and unrelenting fire I will likely ever see for the rest of my career as a fire fighter.  My city, my home was under siege; fire on all sides.  In the end no house was safe and no neighbourhood would remain untouched.

Surrounded by a wall of fire, we took a stand.

This has been a week of polarized emotions.  Fear and courage; despair and hope; loss and triumph.  Wins have felt few and far between and in that first 48 hours there were some deep moments of pain.

“Abandon Abasand”

“Beaconhill is lost”

“We are going to lose the airport”

“The water treatment plant is on fire”

We were losing.  Damnit, we were losing this thing.

But when the dust settles and smoke clears, the city I love is still going to be there.  That’s because Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is not the Oil Sands.  It isn’t the money or the work it provides or the houses and city streets.  Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is its people.  The 88,000.  It’s the strong, tenacious, and loving people that is its greatest natural resource.  This week a few of those people got a chance to show just how deep that well goes.

People like Stephen and Tia Morari, parents who are both firefighters. Who in the first hours of the fire were forced to leave their kids at Fire Hall 1 while they both left to try and save lives.

People like fire fighter Jamie Germain, who toiled in vain to stop his twin brothers house from burning to ground.

People like fire fighter Neil Hasenuik, whose home was lost in the first few hours but continued to fight to save your house, and my house.  Knowing he was left with nothing he selflessly soldiered on.

People like Fire Fighter Nathan Gilchrist and Curtis Robinson, who in a town that had been evacuated for a week, organized a church service for all the first responders.  A place to decompress and to refocus.

People like my Captain.  When he heard that his house was lost, he could have given up or walked away.  Instead he held his post at Incident Command, did his job, and kept the rest of us safe.  Days later when he would be able to survey the smoldering wreckage of all that he owned, he found the only unburnt item that survived.  His mother’s ashes and her wedding ring, the only true thing of importance to him.

The truth is fire has no conscience.  It burns up everything in its path with no remorse.  But the one thing it cannot destroy is the unshakable heart and soul of the men and women who call this beautiful city home. It tried to end us, but it has only made us stronger.

#ymmstrong #ymmfire

 

 

 

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115 thoughts on “The 88,000

  1. Holly godin says:

    TThis is a beautiful and Inpenetrable testimony of great value. It shows us just how lucky we are and what true efforts it really has taken to make it through this dentrimental time of great need. Thank you to all the men and woman.. Thank you for all your tireless effort. You all deserve a medal of honour and appreciation. To know what you have gone through to see the many images, the words, the love, the commitment but most of all the human effort. This is what truly restores our faith in humanity when so much was dire and at stake. To all the active members of our communities that have joined in on the battle to show just how triumphant and brave we can be set apart, alone, or as a team you have shown every person nation wide what we you are all made of when a disaster of this magnitude decided to greet us in our presence. Keep fighting the great fight. You are In awe by so many.

    • Jacqui says:

      First of all, ‘THANKYOU, ALL OF YOU, FOR YOUR SERVICE’. This IS a fierce battle you’re fighting. NONE of us have the words to express how we truly feel about the dangers & challenges you face nonstop. Your enemy is one of, ‘Mother Natures’, most deadly & most evil. You said it right, “Fire has no conscience”. Your story was very touching, very well written..the details made it ‘easy’ to picture. (easy = Not a pleasant vision, but easy to picture) We continue praying for your safety, that you all go home, safely, to your families, and we’re praying for rain. Bless each and everyone of you..the bravest, most unselfish, most giving of people.

  2. Rick Wennerstrom says:

    Well written Lucas.

  3. Wow wow wow!! This is probably one of the best things I have read since the fire!

  4. Michael Paul lake says:

    We heard the horror stories of the firefighters losing their homes to try to save ours.
    We all thank you for everything and I am truly sorry that you guys had to lose your homes.
    This fire was relentless. It was on a mission and the mission was to destroy our city.
    I am sure I say this from all of the people of Fort mac. You guys and gals are amazing. With people like you and the rest of the fire fighters I know now that we can rest easy at night.
    When our city opens up to let the people of ft mac back in there should be a get together so all of us can show all of you how appreciated you guys are.
    Hats off to you and all the other firefighters that did and are still fighting this beast.
    I left town at 530 Tuesday morning of last week, there was no smoke or any sign of a fire burning around fort mac.
    We drove to Devon jackfish and in that 2 hour drive and 1 hour orientation we heard that our city was under a evacuation notice.
    I could not believe it.

    Thank you for fighting this fight for us. We will all be back and we will all be stronger. If this fire done anything it definitely brought fort mcmuraites together better and stronger than ever before.
    Thank you again.

  5. Doug says:

    Amen! And thank you so much for all you and the many others that literally did ALL they could save and WIN so much of Ft Mac away from the Beast.

  6. I have had so many tears from all the stories of sorrow but so many more tears from all the stories of courage and unselfishness of so many firefighters and so many people. I have always respected Fort McMurray and the hard working people but now they have entered a very special place in my heart. God Bless you Lucas and please keep fighting the good fight!

  7. Anne-Marie Burke says:

    Thank you! I was also born and raised in Fort McMurray and am now raising a child of my own there. Half of the street I live on is gone now but I am one of the lucky few whose home was saved. So I just want to say thank you to you and all the other men and women who worked so hard to save our city!

  8. Caitlin says:

    Thank you

  9. abtrenholm says:

    Just wanted to say thank you, and a thanks to all who fought the fire with you. You helped keep so many treasures (people) safe.

  10. Alexis MacPherson says:

    Thank you for sharing Lucas. It was a pleasure to work with you all of those years ago. I’m sorry to hear about Neil’s home, too.

  11. Thank you for your beautiful words.

  12. val dirksen says:

    this was a very powerful message, brought me to tears. you people are amazing.

  13. Jimmy Finley. Thornhill Ontario says:

    A beautiful legacy to all the heroes who sacrificed unconditionally for days and days. They lost their homes but kept fighting. The city is so proud of all of them I believe and we will probably never know all their names and never hear all their stories. That fire had no conscience and no feeling for humans or animals. It was a relentless beast bent on total destruction and annihilation of everything and to leave only ashes. It did a lot of damage but the first responders proved stronger and more determined and saved the city. GOD BLESS each and every one of you. Document all of the stories and keep them to inspire further generations all over Canada.

  14. Thank you for your service. Thank you for this compelling post.

  15. Mary Coombs says:

    Good bless each & everyone of you for all that you ha e done my heart goes out to everyone.

  16. Jacenta Fiesen aka. Sam says:

    Excellent story of bravery and leadership along with compassion and love. A job well done, no lives lost. Beautiful is what I say. We’ve been helping some of your 88,000. here in Boyle. Its an overwhelming experience on both sides. We have cried together, hugged one another played with their kids, filled their cars with everything they needed and more. We have made friends and added a little sunshine along the way. There will be many months to come that the people of Fort McMurray will need each other. I know first hand that the people who I personally helped are humble, thankful, caring people. One word to add, got to love the people from the East Coast, good wholesome people. I’ve meet a lot of Newfoundland families, they are wonderful. God bless all of you. Fort McMurray will be even stronger once you are all home. There will be a bond among you that will be unbreakable. Hugs all around.

  17. Savi Houldin says:

    Lucas, so beautifully written. You are a perfect example of the beauty and good in Fort McMurray. I am so proud to say I knew you as a grade one student who has grown into an invcredible young man…hugs to you from Miss Ramnath/Mrs. Houldin

  18. Thanking God there are people like you in this world we live in….determined to fight this horrible tragedy, side by side, no food, no sleep, not even to stop to change your clothes ,you all just keep going, and continue to keep going..Doing everything you can to fight this monster of a fire….Thinking of everyone that has left behind everthing that, they’ve worked so hard to get providing for thier precious Families…never thinking of yourselves…….May God Bless each and everyone of you….I have Family staying safe all over Alberta because of you…Thank each and everyone one of you for your strength, and courage..

  19. Amazing people call Fort McMurray Home!!!! It will be home again, it will!!!! Thankyou to all that fought for us❤️❤️❤️

    • Thank-you from the bottom of our hearts. The men and women of the fire dept. Forestry, the police dept etc., who saved our city and got it’s citizens out safe. Your hard work is to be commended. I was always a true Newfoundlander, today I am one proud Albertan. I am in Newfoundland today, but my heart and thoughts are back in Fort MacMurray. Can’t wait to go home. Thank- you all again, you fought a beast and won.

  20. Harold Brown says:

    God Bless all those that kept the people safe. This was truly an unbelievable tragic event but the resilience of the people of Ft. McMurray is simply amazing! Canadians are supporting you and people around the world are seeing what true heroes are made of!

  21. Carolyn says:

    You and your comrades will live on in our hearts and lives forever. You pushed, even after exhaustion had struck to keep our city, our livelihood, and our homes safe.
    Your testament is above and beyond what we could even comprehend what you all did for us. We might be out of Fort McMurray, but our dreams are still alive there.
    Thank you for a personal glimpse of the life of a fire fighter.

  22. jim conley says:

    Very well said Lucas!!

  23. Glenda F. says:

    Your words speaks volumes. Thank you to all those who did their best fighting this giant! I have relatives that live in Fort McMurray and just to know that they are safe is what matters most. Material things can be replaced but never the life of a lost loved one. My family are all safe at someone else’s home BUT THEY ARE SAFE! Thanks to you and all your comrades. We are forever indebted to you. May God grant peace and safety to all who battle the fires.

  24. Willy P says:

    My favorite part of the whole article!!

    “But when the dust settles and smoke clears, the city I love is still going to be there. That’s because Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is not the Oil Sands. It isn’t the money or the work it provides or the houses and city streets. Fort McMurray’s greatest asset is its people. The 88,000.”

    That statement needs to be remembered for a long long time!

  25. Linda Zouboules says:

    Thank you! It’s all I can say!! Thank you!!

  26. Dolly Hodgins says:

    WOW and Thank you and all the first responders who worked so hard and so selflessly for hours on end and those behind the scenes for co-ordinating accommodations…etc…etc.. the spirit of FTM is strong and alive for sure.

  27. Treen Ellsworth says:

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart… And the hearts of many I’m pretty sure 🙏🏻

    Your courage and strength to endure what you have with this beast of a fire ..
    You still feel hopeful and optimistic !

    You are truly a hero in my eyes 👏🏼
    Thank you again and may your each step be blessed with faith more and more every day.

    Cheers

  28. Billy O says:

    Not a bad post…

    I can’t help but think about my son asking you “what was the biggest fire you ever had to fight?” As we were watching the smoke rising up from across the river…

    A week later, I think your answer would be different.

    You’re a true hero, Lucas. In many ways.

  29. Amanda Aucoin says:

    Thank you to all who have worked tiresslessly to save my home, my hometown, my memories without you we would have lost it all. Your strength and courage knows no bounds you just keep fighting.

    You are all not just heroes but the saviours what most of us have worked out entire lives for there are just not enough thanks for that. No actual words that can describe how truly greatful we really are.

    Thank you again

  30. Sam Brown says:

    Thank you…Thank you. For the hard work and dedication that it took to fight this horrendous fire! My son and his family also had to flee their hometown and thankfully, their home is still standing! It gave us, his parents back home in Newfoundland, comfort to know they were safe, while we continued to pray for the safety of all you who stayed behind to do battle! God bless you all…and again THANK YOU,

  31. Iva Duffett says:

    Wonderful story. Many, many thanks to all first responders. The fact that so many were safely evacuated is awesome. My prayers go out to all of you as you start to rebuild your lives. God bless all of you

  32. Sue Diehl says:

    Beautifully written and can feel the pain, pride, heartbreaking memories in this piece. Thanks for sharing! Thoughts and prayers go out to you and your fellow first responders as this is not over yet. Sending Hugs from Ontario.

  33. Thecla K says:

    You are an amazing man. God bless and I totally agree with your words of inspiration.

  34. Rosemary Baker says:

    My Son In Law, who works for Strathcona Fire Dept, and My husband (4 shifts shy of retirement with 36 years at the age of 59 and 9 months ) ended up joining the efforts on Monday May 9/16. The stars must have aligned to have them both up there together as the way the shifts work, in their respective depts, is very different. It gave our family MUCH peace knowing they were up there together, to be there for each other. It gave us a GREATER PEACE knowing they were putting out hot spots and not facing the flames, that you, the first firefighters on scene, were dealt with. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU for your selflessness and courage in the face of such insurmountable odds, for all your efforts and all you did save!! Those 88,000 lives, I’m sure, will be ETERNALLY GRATEFUL!! My SIL is sadly home last night with my husband set to return Friday night.

  35. Debbie S. says:

    Beautiful post! Amazing service from these men and women and in their time of loss. The people are definitely what matters and they are incredibly strong.

  36. Lisa king says:

    The fire fighters are the heart and soul of fighting these fires they are the corages ones the ones that have to fight the fires while there houses burn down around them we need to thank god for these people.

  37. Jackie says:

    Wow powerful words and emotions … you are all hero’s and what u have seen n felt is so sad but hats off to you ALL for keeping 88,000 people alive! You are all AWESOME! Thank-you!

  38. Thank you.
    Thank you for fighting.
    Thank you for writing.
    Thank you.

  39. Tetesa says:

    Heart warming stories. Thsnkyou for sharing. I’m a proud Canadian. I wish other countries had what we have

  40. Connie says:

    “People like the fire fighter” …who is a hero himself and beautifully crafted and shared these amazing words.

  41. annwjwhite says:

    Thank you for posting. Down here in Washington DC, we were thinking of your fight and wishing you well. I hope rebuilding brings you closer together without further tragedy.

  42. A good way to interpret fire in itself. Fire does have no conscience but it struck kind of different to me than other comments I read.. I think the men who fight fire have a big conscience and that’s why they do what they do, or they would not even try to save the people caught in the fire.

  43. Kewrites says:

    Beautiful post with thoughtful words

  44. Thank you for your beautiful post. You are all in our hearts and that which connects us all feels stronger than ever. God bless you.

  45. Thank you share with us your story, it is very emotional but genuinely powerful. It is sad to read how people lost their things but they always thought duty first. God bless all of you.

  46. Valerie Thornhill says:

    Heroes, every one.🌟

  47. SignedArouge says:

    This is beautiful and touching! Loved it! 😘

  48. shelleyb552 says:

    As long as all 88,000 of you are still standing, consider it win all the way around. Good luck fighting the “beast”!

  49. daramemon says:

    Divided we fall, United we stand, the glorious human spirit

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