Heroes aplenty step forward in wake of McMurray blaze

Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

May 30, 2016

The word "hero" is rarely used in everyday jargon. But with the dramatic events surrounding the Fort McMurray fire, the word "hero" comes easily to one's lips.

Open the dictionary, and you find hero means someone who "does great and brave things."

I think, however, a hero is someone who steps outside of their comfort zone to do good, to right a wrong. The element of bravery is implied.

Often as not though, bravery is not an adjective a hero would use to describe their own actions. It is we who witness the event who deem the action to be laudable.

Sitting by a high school teacher at a reception following a Mass for those exiled by the beast of a forest fire in Fort McMurray, I listened as she told of being chased by the fire.

She did not leave school until all of her students had been picked up by their parents. A water bomber swooped down and doused flames as the teacher pulled away from home.

Now sitting safely in a church basement, she searched the crowd for faces she knew. As a student sat to eat down beside her, she told the youngster's mother, "I was so lonely. I am so happy to see you."

Worried about the fire's impact on her students, the teacher emailed them and encouraged them to keep a journal to help them decompress.

This teacher, no doubt like many others in Fort McMurray, is a hero.

The Fort McMurray Fire Captain Adam Bugden, his crew - all the crews who came from away to battle the blaze dubbed "The Beast" - the water bomber pilots, the rescue agencies, vets, volunteers (you know who you are) each and every one of you is a hero.

The fire captain was perhaps best portrayed in an editorial cartoon. A cast of comic book superheroes - Batman, Robin, Superman, the whole crew - gathered to welcome the fire-weary Bugden.

Stories abound about people's generosity - everything from free gas, to cooking nourishing food, to opening their homes to complete strangers. Shades of the Good Samaritan.

It was an honour to witness some of these acts of kindness. Surrounded by pure goodness, I felt this constantly changing drama was a catalyst for us.

Stripped of the masks we wear in our day-to-day lives, we were suddenly allowed to open up our hearts to our fellow human beings. We could give, share, care for these people in need without the thought "Why am I doing this? "What's in it for me?"

COCKER SPANIEL RETURNED

One couple was driving busloads of people to safety and were ordered to evacuate before going home to get their 14-year-old dog. Their story was posted on Facebook. It fired up the hearts of fellow dog lovers who hurried to the bus drivers' home, fetched the couple's cocker spaniel and delivered it to the grateful owners at the airport as they left for Edmonton.

While the fire rampaged its way south and away from Fort McMurray, other stories surfaced.

First responders were battling the blaze, yes. But when they happened upon a pet left behind in the various dwellings, they gave food and water to the worried animal or bird.

The rescued pets were gathered up and a thousand of them were brought to Edmonton to be reunited with their grateful families. A Suncor pilot dropped the "No pets allowed" rule and flew a veritable Noah's Ark of animals and their owners to Edmonton. The city-based Parrot Safe House has taken in more than 30 of these chatty birds.

GAS TANKS FILLED

People coming to fetch their abandoned cars found their gas tanks had been filled by anonymous benefactors.

Small towns rallied and townsfolk waved weary travelers into their community halls for home-cooked meals.

A local radio reporter, seeing a chilled man waiting in line for the prepaid cash card, gave the man his jacket. City folk dropped off new clothes, liquid baby formula, towels and more.

Institutions opened up empty apartments for the fire-shocked families and tended to their emotional needs as well.

We saw humanity at its best. Usually tragedy, war, destruction of all sorts capture the media. We become inured to tragedy. This is not to say the Fort McMurray blaze is not a tragedy. It is. People's lives have been changed irrevocably.

We, however, are allowed to care and witness the goodness of our fellow human beings. That is a joy and a relief.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)