REALTORS® step up to help Fort McMurray residents

Due to a devastating wildfire, a state of emergency was declared in Fort McMurray, Alberta last month. All 80,000 inhabitants had to be evacuated from their homes and some neighbourhoods have been completely destroyed.

The provincial government is still determining when some residents can come back , even if their homes are still intact, due to the toxic environment resulting from the fire damage (2,000 will be unable to return for several months due to caustic ash). There is also the very practical challenge of restoring all services back to normal.

The REALTOR® community has banded together and so far raised over $649,000 for the Canadian Red Cross’ Alberta Fires Appeal via the Canadian REALTORS Care® Foundation. A major shout out goes to the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) U.S. counterpart,  the National Association of REALTORS®, which has made a commitment to donate $250,000 to the cause.

The chair of the Canadian REALTORS Care® Foundation Ralph Fyfe, a past-president of WinnipegREALTORS®, when speaking to local Realtors about Fort McMurray, said he was proud to see how the 110,000 Realtors across the country are stepping up to help Canadians in need.

If you would still like to donate, go to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal (Fort McMurray).

The story below is by Matt Day, who writes articles for CREA and the Canadian REALTORS Care® Foundation.

If you had minutes to grab the most valuable items in your house, what would you take? Insurance papers, passports, pictures, computers?

Realtor Jason Blair was faced with that harrowing task as the unquenchable wildfire flicked its all-consuming flames closer to Fort McMurray, threatening the entire town.

He told the Ottawa Citizen that they made sure to take with them their son’s first pair of shoes and a shoebox filled with pictures and other memories of his deceased mother.

“Think about going home right now and grabbing what you can,” the Realtor with Coldwell Banker Fort McMurray told CBC News shortly after evacuating his home Tuesday, May 3, 2016. “What is valuable and what isn’t ... Pack up your babies and you’re on the road. Where are you going? They tell you they are heading somewhere, but you can see the lineup of cars.”

It has been a little over a week since “all hell broke loose,” as Blair said, and he and his young family were forced to find shelter in Cochrane, Alberta, near Calgary. He was distressed for days as he waited to hear the fate of his home.

It was one of the lucky structures. Nearly 2,500 buildings are destroyed and many others have smoke damage. According to a Bank of Montreal analyst, estimated insurance losses could exceed $9 billion.

“Our home’s still there. I had somebody drive by, stop in front of my house, FaceTime me and say, ‘here it is.’”

One would expect Blair to be relieved, excited or thankful, but that’s not exactly the case.

“It’s hard to rejoice when you know personal friends who have lost their (homes). It’s hard to jump up and down and be extremely excited yours is still standing,” Blair recently told CBC News.

One of those friends is a fellow co-worker at the Coldwell Banker Fort McMurray office. She lost everything in the fire.

“When we get back there we will make sure she’s OK financially, socially and emotionally until she gets her home back,” Blair said, mentioning that there are about 35 people at their office, dispersed all around Alberta.

Their main work-related goal will be to facilitate paperwork and get back online once their temporary office is set up in Edmonton. Blair said they have photos of properties insurance companies will want to see for claims.

When Blair was told Realtors across the country raised over $186,000 in one week for Fort McMurray rebuild efforts and more money is on the way, he gets emotional.

“Wow, damn well nearly brings a tear to my eye,” he said. “Nobody likes to ask for help and we need it. The Realtors I know from the town I’m from give and give and give, so I’m not surprised by what’s being done across Canada and I know I’m very appreciative of what they’re doing.”

Asked if he will return to the industry, he said he doesn’t plan on skipping a beat.

“If they said we could move back tomorrow I’d be on my way today waiting outside city limits. The place will be bigger and better than ever,” he said. “The job will be there waiting for me. Do I think people are still going to want to buy houses? Absolutely, but I’ll have time to work on other stuff.”