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Here's how you can help as the Fort McMurray fires continue to rage (updated)

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Photo: Facebook/Raz Dee

Seeing the evacuation and devastation from the fires threatening Fort McMurray brings back wrenching memories of displacement from the High River flood in 2013. Our thoughts are with everyone who has evacuated the region.

It brings to mind many thoughts in how we face and respond to disasters in Alberta and elsewhere, but for the moment, here is some immediate information and resources for evacuees and those wanting to help.

In the immediate short term, the best way to help is to donate to the Red Cross. If you'd like to do that the easy way, you can pledge $5 for every time you text 'redcross' to 30333 (yes, you can do it more than once).

The Red Cross was the organization that we saw present on the ground quickly during the High River flood with supplies, assistance and volunteers. It's a massive, chaotic and often inefficient undertaking to gather and ship goods like blankets and food from across the country, rather than sourcing things close by and from strategic vantage points. So when they say the best way to help is by sending money, it's pragmatic, not opportunistic.

Evacuated residents should email wildfire@rmwb.ca with their name and location to confirm that they are safe, if they haven't already. People can offer and receive help via the Facebook Open Source Help Page and on Twitter @YMMHelp. There is also evacuation advice for those who still need it at @RMWoodBuffalo and @511AlbertaThe Globe and Mail has more tips. CBC has information on mitigating wildfire health hazards.

Supporters Of AB Rescues has information for pet owners needing temporary pet housing and advises people who still have animals in their home but are not home to "contact Pulse 780 743 7000 or RMWB by-law at 780 788 4200."

I expect there may still be some need for options for boarding and transporting horses and larger animals, so get in touch if this is an area in which you can help.

Update 1:

The emergency operations centre is being evacuated.  If anyone else is still in Fort McMurray and area, please leave immediately.

The Province of Alberta is posting its Fort McMurray fire emergency information updates also.

For people who are displaced:
Evacuees can also register with the Red Cross to let family / friends know they're safe: 1-888-350-6070.  The RCMP are asking that people call their complaint line (780-788-4000) only if they have safety concerns, but are not in immediate danger (911 service remains in effect).  Also, a reminder that the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Helpline is available at 1-877-303-2642.

Volunteers:
Volunteers can register with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and the Red Cross.  Be patient, because it is likely still be too dangerous for non-emergency personnel to enter the region as of this time.

Helping:
Avenue
Magazine is providing a list of Edmonton organizations & businesses offering assistance.

Update 2:

A second Facebook page to coordinate donations of specific items to specific evacuees is also active.

Residents of Fort McMurray #468 First Nation have been asked to contact Councillor Byron Bates or respond on the Facebook page as to the current location and status of band members and families.

The City of Edmonton has a page up with information about how Edmontonians can help.

Update 3:

Residents of Slave Lake who were evacuated during the 2011 wildfires are offering advice and to answer questions for evacuees from Fort McMurray.  There is an excellent overview of what they learned at CBC, and they have a Facebook group for answering questions.

The Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society (EERSS) is one of the primary organizations providing supplies to evacuees and co-ordinating donations. Watch @EdmontonERSS for locations, and updates on what items are needed most.

Update 4:

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has begun rescuing pets from the area.  If you were forced to abandon a pet, please submit a request with the particulars.

Driver's licenses and other Alberta identification can be replaced at Service Alberta registries at no charge for evacuees. Some identity confirmation checkpoints apply, of course.

Plus two links added to existing info above.

Update 5:

I believe this is from the Province's emergency page (link above), but for a quick look, here is some information on some basic employment questions, as well as for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have been evacuated and are unsure of their current status.

The uncertainty of what to expect or what one might be returning to is the hardest part.  Mcmurraymap at Medium provides (with some important caveats -- i.e. "This is not official, has not been prepared by a professional and will not be entirely accurate. This is a volunteer effort based on satellite images") some satellite-generated approximations of damage in Fort McMurray.  It's a bit guesstimation, but can help evacuees steel themselves for what's ahead, when they're finally able to return.

This story will continue to be updated. Check back for developments.

Photo: Facebook/Raz Dee

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