Nfld. & Labrador

Anonymous donor helps bring Fort McMurray wildfire evacuee home to Corner Brook

Thanks to an unknown donor, David Layden is safe and sound at home with family, after losing everything when he fled the wildfire in Alberta.
David Layden and his sister Lil Alexander, reunited in Corner Brook. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

David Layden can't quite believe he's back home in Corner Brook, thanks to an anonymous donor who stepped up to help after a wildfire in Fort McMurray left him stranded in Edmonton with no money and no family.

"It feels like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders," Layden told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show Monday.

"It's good to be home."

Layden's return marks a happy ending to his terrifying ordeal that began last Tuesday, when he and tens of thousands of others in Fort McMurray fled fires that had ravaged much of the city and which continue to burn out of control.

Layden, who worked hard at Walmart to make ends meet in a city with a high cost of living, found himself at an emergency shelter in Edmonton with nothing but an ache for Corner Brook.

"At that point, I just needed to be with my family," he said.

"I had wondered, how am I getting home from Edmonton? I'd never been in Edmonton. I didn't know the city. I found for the first day, day and a half, I didn't have a wink of sleep."

​And in the midst of that nightmare, Layden finally stumbled into a bit of unexpected luck.

The fire razed several neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray to the ground, with the total extent of the destruction still unknown.

Getting noticed

Layden gave an interview to CBC last week outside the emergency shelter, a reminder that not everyone in Fort McMurray had the resources to land on their feet after the fires. 

His family back in Corner Brook, who had been in touch with Layden and knew he was physically OK, were shaken by what they saw.

"You could just see the stress on his face, and that's when it kicked in, this is real real, you know?" said Layden's sister, Lil Alexander.

But Alexander and Layden's other relatives had no ability to help.

Layden, interviewed in Edmonton, as he struggled to land on his feet. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

"We're a family struggling ourselves, living paycheque to paycheque," she said. 

"We don't have the means to pay, even to help."

But there was someone else who saw that interview who could help, and did.

'I was speechless'

A woman, who wants to remain anonymous, reached out on social media after seeing Layden's interview, wondering how to help him — a post Alexander saw and quickly responded to.

The donor wanted to pay for a plane ticket to get Layden home to Newfoundland.

A weight's been lifted off my shoulders- David Layden

"She had said that when she seen him on  the news, it tugged on her heart and reminded her of her own son," said Alexander, adding the donor was not wealthy, but simply moved to help.

Layden was woken from his cot in the shelter with the surreal news.

"I was speechless, I thought I was dreaming," he said.

Once it sunk in, Layden called the donor.

"I must've thanked her at least a million times."

Thanks to her kindness, Layden arrived home in Corner Brook Saturday night, hoping to rebuild his life at home.

Alexander said after the donor stepped up, her family received a half dozen additional offers. She said she hopes people can continue to pay that forward, for all the other people affected by the tragedy.

"There's lots of ways to help, there's lots of ways to donate. There's still a lot to do," she said.

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show