‘We know what it was like’: Slave Lake residents offer help, open homes to people fleeing wildfire

The evacuation order for the town of High Level, the surrounding Mackenzie County and the nearby Bushe River Reserve of the Dene Tha’ First Nation has forced more than 4,000 people to flee their homes.

More than 650 people have registered at an emergency reception centre set up in Slave Lake, a town 500 kilometres away from High Level.

People in the community are offering whatever they can to help.

“My phone didn’t stop ringing yesterday. Texts and social media messages were coming in,” said Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman.

“The whole community is just dying to help,”

Local residents are all too familiar with running from wildfire.

Eight years ago, Slave Lake evacuated 7,000 people during a massive fire that destroyed a third of the town. 

“We’ve done a ton of extensive training on how to assist other communities with this,” said Warman. “So it was a very smooth transition yesterday, bringing in our people and getting a centre up and running.

“Just thankful that we’re able to put all that training and all that energy and all those ideas and those things we’ve learned to good use and can help someone else.”

Warman says hotels in Slave Lake have reached capacity, so they’re working to see if High Prairie can take on the overflow.

Local campgrounds and homes are being offered to those who need somewhere to stay.

“We know what it was like in 2011, with nowhere to go and not being sure what to do,” said Arlene Gramiak with Norm’s Walleye Camp R.V. Park on Tuesday.

“We just wanted to make sure to let people know they can come here for free.”

The campground is providing free hookups and sites.

A reception centre for High Level evacuees has been set up at the Legacy Centre in Slave Lake. (Genevieve Tardif/Radio-Canada)

Evacuees are grateful for the support they’ve found in Slave Lake. 

“People are helpful,” said Darlene Diamond-Se, who left with her family from High Level for the evacuation centre at the Legacy Centre in Slave Lake.

They were directed to three other places before finally landing in the town.

“I was a nervous wreck, I felt lost and I just wanted to go home,” she said.

To provide stability, people in Slave Lake have also offered tutoring, a girl guide meeting invitation and drop-in soccer.

The town has also opened the pool and recreation centre for free to visitors.

The town also posted an update about services on their website. Slave Lake is not currently accepting donations.

People in Slave Lake have posted offers on social media for services. Here is a list of some that were posted on Tuesday:

Places to stay

  • Norm’s Walleye Camp and R.V. — free full hookup sites
  • The Gathering Place — Church on 6th Avenue with room for trailers in parking lot
  • The Filipino Community Association of Slave Lake can connect some people with homes through their Facebook group

Food and toiletries

  • High Level evacuees who have registered at the Slave Lake Reception Centre and need financial support for meals on Tuesday only can go to the Slave Lake Reception Centre to pick up a lunch and supper voucher
  • BB Waxing on 10th Avenue – collecting toiletries for evacuees

Community and family activities

  • Free drop-in activities for evacuated families at the Multi-Rec Centre on Tuesday
  • Free public swim at Northern Lights Aquatic Centre from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. on Tuesday
  • Girl Guides opening meetings to evacuees —  Alliance Church (beside the friendship centre) Wednesday at 6-730 pm, all girls ages 5-18
  • Drop-in soccer Tuesday and Thursday at Northern Lakes College (for adults)
  • Free drop-ins at Champions Health & Fitness on Main Street

Another 150 people have sought shelter in La Crete, Alta., a hamlet about 135 kilometres southeast of High Level.

Some are travelling further south to Peace River and Grande Prairie.

There are postings for more offers in nearby communities

The owner of JMAC Developments, a condo development in Fahler, Alta., a town in Peace County, two condos, is offering free accommodation for two families.

“We were sitting there watching the fire, people getting moved and we had two empty units so we figured we might as well help some people,” owner Jeremy Turcot said.

Both units are fully furnished.

“It has everything a person needs they just need their clothes really,” he said.

On Tuesday the units were still available.

Turcot said he is soliciting donations to help stock the refrigerator with food as well.