The Times of Israel
As a wildfire more than double the size of New York City continues to burn in the Canadian province of Alberta, upwards of 90,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes under mandatory evacuation orders as the province declared a state of emergency. The fire, which has raged on for more than a week, has consumed the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, considered to be Canada’s oil capital.
On Monday, the wildfire covered 200,000 hectares (nearly 495,000 acres) of land and authorities said it could potentially grow another 100,000 hectares before Tuesday’s end. The area engulfed in flames is already more than triple the size of Alberta’s provincial capital of Edmonton and double the size of Calgary, the province’s most populated city.
Approximately 2,400 structures were lost, including many homes, according to the local government, who say significant rain is needed to stop the fire’s growth. The urban area is centered in Alberta’s oil sands, which are a major driver of the Canadian economy.
Alberta’s local Jewish community promptly stepped up to assist evacuees from Fort McMurray once the fire began spreading rapidly.
Rabbi Menachem Matusof, the executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, said Chabad tried to contact every Jewish family in their records living in the region. He said those reached by phone were all safe, having mostly evacuated to Edmonton, along with a few to Calgary.
Chabad helped arrange accommodation for evacuees in the two major cities and also reached out Friday to provide challah for Shabbat to Jewish families who had evacuated.
“In the long run our plan is to offer at least to start mezuzahs for people for their homes once they rebuild and move back but that’s probably a long way down the road,” he said. “I’m sure that there will be a lot of emotional support that people will need once they realize what hit them and once they realize what they’ve lost.”
The Jewish Federation of Edmonton has set up a donation drive to collect supplies such as food, water, diapers and clothing for those who have temporary settled in their city, according to CEO Debby Shoctor.
“People are giving their homes, they’re giving extra rental units that they have or condos that they have sitting empty. All the restaurants in town are giving free meals to the evacuees,” said Shoctor. “It’s just incredible what people are doing in Edmonton to help the evacuees because most of them are coming here.”
As part of a national effort by Canada’s Jewish Federations, Shoctor said the JFE has also set up a fundraiser that has reached $2,500 locally so far. In the Southern Alberta city of Calgary, the Jewish federation collected $12,000 in its first week, and also donated $25,000 of its own through a preexisting emergency fund.
Jewish communities throughout all of Canada had raised a combined $100,000 for the cause as of Monday evening.
These funds will be donated to organizations providing direct aid such as the Edmonton Food Bank and Edmonton Emergency Relief services.
“The response there in Edmonton literally made us cry,” said Rensler, who spent two days with his wife in the first hotel they could find that had vacancies, coming off the highway.
He said various groups brought them clothing, food, and supplies, and local restaurants served them heavily-discounted, if not free, meals.
“We left with clothes on our back and that’s about it. I didn’t even have a full wallet with me,” said Rensler. “The response from the community, not just the Jewish community but the entire community in Edmonton was extremely overwhelming.”
The two later flew to British Columbia where they are now staying with friends while they wait. Rensler said he doesn’t believe their home is one of those that were destroyed, however he anticipates significant smoke damage when they eventually return.
“Having just gone through Pesach, the Dayenu phrase, ‘that would have been enough’ is kind of ringing in my ears a little bit,” Rensler said. “As I was driving up the highway I was just thinking ‘get me out of here and get my wife out of here alive and that will be enough.’ And it’s probably still enough. We can deal with all the circumstantial stuff when have to.”