Horizon North is proud to help those in need during the Fort McMurray wildfires by opening our doors to provide lodging & meals for hundreds of displaced persons and emergency staff. Our thoughts go out to all those affected and we look forward to assisting in the rebuild of the community to bring people back home.
The tragic disaster in Fort McMurray is far from over, as the city will take months and maybe even years to not only rebuild, but also heal. Now, weeks after the wildfires first began approaching the city and then went through the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Horizon North is able to reflect on the moments, both happy and sad, that we experienced with displaced persons and our employees.
Tuesday May 3rd, we received confirmation of changing wind directions that were pushing the wildfires towards the community of Fort McMurray. This confirmation started a chain of events, which first began with a full city evacuation. We would never have thought that we would be housing families, emergency personnel and certainly, never in our wildest dreams, did we think we would welcome dogs, cats and even a few snakes into our lodges. However, thanks to our caring staff who were willing to put others first and our community minded organizational values, we were able turn our workforce housing lodges near Fort McMurray into accommodations for those in need.
Blacksand Executive Lodge – Horizon North’s premiere workforce housing lodge turned evacuation center – was filled with a wide range of emotions. Our staff wanted to provide those who were in need of a warm meal and clean bed with anything that they required – even treats for our furry friends. The dedicated Horizon North team was prideful that they could help the community of Fort McMurray, and continued to work seamlessly together to provide approximately 1,250 evacuees with a place to stay. We ensured that everyone who came to Blacksand and our lodges were safe and accounted for. However, what we did not know was that this was only the start of our journey.
In the continuing days after the evacuation of Fort McMurray residents, our Operations team met with other workforce housing companies to discuss evacuation plans, accommodations for emergency personnel and provided those in need with heartwarming words of encouragement. On social media and in the news, Horizon North received a lot of attention, which was initially centered on people’s appreciation of us opening up our workforce facilities to the public and questions about where they can go. The stories then quickly morphed into touching gestures and acts of kindness. Some of the more compassionate stories included Horizon North employees sleeping behind their desks because they wanted our guests to have a room to stay in (our employees often stay in our lodges while on shift), how employees were offering those stranded on the roads food, water and gasoline and the large amount of money raised to donate to the Red Cross. While our employees were helping those in need at our lodges, other staff members were proud to be supporting the hardworking staff at the Fort McMurray Emergency Operations Centre, the hub of the fire disaster coordination, by feeding upwards of 800 people per meal and giving out free hugs to those who needed them.
As we were making plans to be a part of solution to support the proud community of Fort McMurray’s rebuild, on May 16th at approximately 10pm, our Blacksand Executive Lodge, along with other lodges on Aostra Road, were placed on a mandatory evacuation order after gusting winds and high temperatures caused the Fort McMurray wildfire to move in its direction. The facility turned evacuation center was now under threat, and our top priority at the time was the safety of our guests and employees. We safely evacuated the lodge as per our Emergency Response plan, and were proud as an organization that every guest and staff member was safe and accounted for. Unfortunately, Blacksand Executive Lodge sustained significant damage due to the wildfire. We appreciate all who gave us kind words and feel blessed to have employees, shareholders, customers and a community who care so much about us.
We would also like to recognize all of the other workforce housing providers who opened their doors and hearts to the people of Fort McMurray – without all of us joining together, we would not have been able to provide the support that we, as a community, were able to do. In addition, we also thank the emergency responders, all other organizations and the public who have largely gone unrecognized in their contributions that they have made. The ability for the community of Fort McMurray to come together during a disaster is what makes #Albertastrong