Fort McMurray sends truckloads of donations to B.C. wildfire victims despite calls to wait

Despite being asked not to donate to B.C. wildfire victims until their needs are properly assessed, Fort McMurray residents say they can’t sit around and do nothing.

'It’s familiar. We can understand how the evacuees are feeling right now,' says Fort McMurray resident

Fort McMurray residents drop off donations destined for wildfire victims in British Columbia Monday. (David Thurton/CBC)

Despite being asked not to donate to B.C. wildfire victims until their needs are properly assessed, Fort McMurray residents say they can't sit around and do nothing. 

And so an army of former evacuees from the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire are trucking emergency aid to British Columbia.

Tamara Laverdiere and friends drove from Fort McMurray to Kamloops on Sunday with roughly 5,900 kilograms of donations inside a trailer behind a pickup truck.

On Monday, they were working with the Kamloops food bank to hand out donations to evacuees in hotels.

"It's familiar. We can understand how the evacuees are feeling right now," Laverdiere said. "We're just happy we are on the giving end this time."

British Columbia was battling more than 220 active wildfires Monday, spanning 40,000 hectares and displacing 14,000 people.

The conditions mirror last summer's Horse River wildfire, which encircled Fort McMurray and caused more than 80,000 people to flee.

With the 2016 wildfire still in the minds of Fort McMurray residents, ad hoc donation centres have been popping up on streets and in parking lots in the city.

Explosion of donations

Volunteers like Crystal Purcell were recruited on social media.

"I walked down there and started loading right away," Purcell said Monday in between answering phone calls and loading boxes onto a semi-truck. "[The donations] just blew up from there as you can see."

Crystal Purcell answers phone calls and co-ordinates donations in between loading boxes on the trailer heading to British Columbia. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Volunteers are accepting non-perishable food items, as well as items for those leaving their homes, like gas cans and windshield washer fluid.

They're also asking for things for firefighters, such as respirators, cough drops and lip balm.

"We're taking as much as we can get. The whole province needs it," Purcell said.

Ignoring calls to halt donations

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District, the administrative government for Kamloops and surrounding communities, has asked for a pause in donations.

However, Purcell said volunteers are ignoring the calls because they remember how long it took for her and others to get help from the Red Cross and the government when they needed it.

"I had to wait a month and a half and I had not a damn penny in my pocket when I left here [Fort McMurray]," Purcell said. "So waiting that long for supplies like clothes and food and water is just not efficient."

Local barber Mohammed Abadi has donated gas money to the trucks and opened his shop to accept items. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Local barber Mohammed Abadi donated gas money to the delivery trucks and has opened his shop to accept items. Abadi said he remembers when Canada opened its arms to help wildfire evacuees like him.

"All I can think about is leaving that day and getting to Edmonton and how the whole community stood by our side to help us out," Abadi.

Alberta has sent about 100 firefighters to British Columbia to fight the flames along with another 60 people with experience in co-ordinating fire-fighting efforts.

Canadian Forces in Alberta have sent three CH-146 Griffin helicopters; two from Cold Lake and one from Edmonton. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.

With files from Sarah Lawrynuik and the Canadian Press