Edmonton

Edmonton truck driver unites Fort McMurray evacuees with their abandoned vehicles

Human kindness is overflowing in the aftermath of the wildfire that displaced tens of thousands of people from Fort McMurray on May 3. One of the people trying to do his part is Eldon Hankins of Edmonton.

Eldon Hankins put the call out on Facebook offering to pick up evacuees' vehicles

Eldon Hankins put his regular work aside and used his truck and flatbed trailer to recover vehicles abandoned by Fort McMurray evacuees. (Julian Uzielli)

Human kindness is overflowing in the aftermath of the wildfire that displaced tens of thousands of people from Fort McMurray on May 3.

One of the people trying to do his part is Eldon Hankins of Edmonton.

Just a few days after the wildfire, he put a message out on Facebook, volunteering to reunite people with the cars they abandoned along Highway 63 as they fled the flames.

In bumper to bumper traffic, some vehicles ran out of gas, while others broke down from overheating.

"It dawned on me, I've got a trailer and a truck, so why not?" Hankins said.

There are over a hundred texts on his cellphone from evacuees he's made contact with, and numerous more emails.

He's now logging long hours on the road in the truck he would normally use for his business, putting his own work on hold to rescue vehicles for free.

"I know what it's like not to have a vehicle, and for some of the people I talked to that's all they have left is their vehicle, and what they have left in the vehicle," Hankins said.

On this day, the 27-year-old met up with Fort McMurray evacuee Cory Avery at a gas station in Bon Accord.
With the help of Eldon Hankins, Cory Avery (L) and his son Cody are reunited with their car. (Julian Uzielli)

Avery was in a convoy with his wife and two sons when they had to abandon their Pontiac G6 on the highway because it ran out of gas.

"It was pretty crazy trying to get out of there," Avery said. "I knew I had enough (gas) to get an hour outside of town. It was better leaving her there than in town".

With the keys to Avery's car in his pocket, and general directions on its location, Hankins drove down the highway.

An hour and a half and 170 km later, the car was found near Wandering River. Hankins loaded the vehicle on to his flatbed trailer. Pleased with his success, he relayed the news to Avery in a cellphone call.

"Even just picking up one car," Hankins said, "I'm almost as excited as he is. Just the fact I get to help."
Eldon Hankins secures Cory Avery's car to his flatbed. (Julian Uzielli)

The two men arranged a meeting at the gas station in Bon Accord for the handover.

They grinned and shook hands, with Avery insisting Hankins, at the very least, accept $60 for gas.

"This vehicle means a lot," Nick Avery said. "Plus you have all my belongings in the back. It's got more sentimental value in that car than the car's worth." 

Rescuing this one vehicle took about six hours out of Hankins' day. 

"Even if it was just one vehicle, every second was worth it," he said.

(with files from Julian Uzielli)