Calgary

Fort McMurray evacuees stream into Calgary schools

Universities and colleges across Calgary continued to open their doors to Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Saturday and hundreds have arrived so far. Private dorm rooms are filling the need, but that could change.

'I'd like to say to everybody in this terrible circumstance, Calgary’s got an open hand for you'

Rebecca and Eddison Lee-Johnson say they were lucky to evacuate to the south of Fort McMurray earlier this week, as thousands initially went north. (CBC)

Universities and colleges across Calgary continued to open their doors to Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Saturday and hundreds have arrived so far.

Private dorm rooms are filling the need, but that could change.

While SAIT (pictured) and Ambrose University are now full, as of Saturday afternoon the University of Calgary had space and Mount Royal University will open up dorm rooms when U of C is full. (CBC)

Eddison Lee-Johnson and his wife Rebecca fled the Fort McMurray area and drove down to Calgary by a twist of fate, and they are glad they did.

"I think we are very fortunate to have made a decision to come south," Lee-Johnson said.

Thousands initially fled Fort McMurray to the north but Saturday, a convoy began at 6 a.m. to bring them south of the danger zone.

"And our heart goes out to [the other evacuees] knowing that they might be facing more difficulties, emotional distress about the fire, having left their homes," he said.

The couple is among roughly 1,000 evacuees finding shelter in one of Calgary's post-secondary institutions.

SAIT and Ambrose University are now full.

Chief Tom Sampson, who heads Calgary's emergency response, said this was predictable.

CEMA Chief Tom Sampson says the numbers of evacuees are about what they expected. (CBC)

"We knew this would happen, that people would cascade down the province as they did," he said.                                              

"I know that our staff are thinking that we can handle about 1500 before we start to get into mass lodging."

By that he means putting cots into a larger space like the Saddledome, but that has not been necessary so far.

The city says there are still rooms available at the University of Calgary and that is where new arrivals should go this weekend.

"You go in, go to the dining room, and we'll take good care of you," Sampson said.

Once U of C is full, Sampson says they'll open up dorms at Mount Royal University.

Coun. Ward Sutherland says the city is ready to accommodate more evacuees and they're giving out transit passes, as well as other free supports.

Coun. Ward Sutherland says the city is ready to welcome Fort McMurray residents. (CBC)

"I'd like to say to everybody in this terrible circumstance, Calgary's got an open hand for you," Sutherland said.

"We're here. Welcome to Calgary. We're giving free passes if they show their identification at Sparks, at Heritage Park or at the Zoo, they can go enjoy themselves."

With files from Kate Adach

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