William and Kate to visit fire-ravaged Slave Lake
Prince William and Kate have made a last-minute change to their royal tour: they will land in the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake on Wednesday to meet with firefighters and people whose homes were destroyed by wildfires.
The royal couple is expected to arrive in the town, about 280 kilometres north of Edmonton, and stay a few hours on Wednesday.
"I'm very excited by that," said Sandi Gaskell whose home was destroyed. She has been living in a trailer at a campground and has only just returned to work from stress leave.
"I suppose it distracts from our own situation. We've lost something. We've lost lots. It's an exciting occasion."
Ever since William and Kate's Canadian itinerary was announced, there had been speculation over whether they would add another stop on the nine-day visit to the country.
The couple is spending Tuesday in Yellowknife, the fourth and most northerly stop on their Canadian tour. They were not scheduled to head for Calgary until Thursday to take in the stampede.
The Slave Lake trip was a last-minute addition to the official itinerary because the couple wanted to ensure that their visit wouldn't interfere with recovery efforts, their staff said.
The town is rebuilding after a wildfire fanned by powerful winds ripped through the community on May 15, forcing the evacuation of all 7,000 residents with little more than the clothes on their backs.
The plan is to leave Yellowknife on Wednesday morning and fly to Slave Lake, landing at 11:30 MT.
The couple will meet with firefighters, rescue crews and about 50 of the families who lost their homes.
"It's pretty humbling that they would take the time to talk to the people that stayed and fought the fire," said volunteer fire chief Jamie Coutts, who is compiling a list of 10 firefighters to meet William and Kate.
"It's pretty amazing they would stop in and talk to us about that."
The royal couple will also tour the worst of the fire-devastated neighbourhoods.
William and Kate will then go on a day-long retreat before arriving in Calgary. There, people were already lining up Tuesday afternoon to get one of 5,600 wristbands that won't be handed out until Wednesday morning. The wristbands give access to one of two chances to see the couple, on Thursday at the Stampede or on Friday before they fly to Los Angeles.
With files from The Canadian Press