At a celebration in Fort Smith, NWT, this weekend, everyone felt gratitude: grateful to be home, to be together, and grateful for the first responders who protected the city from wildfires.
This summer, the Northwest Territories faced an unprecedented wildfire season in which 70 percent of the population was displaced in mass evacuations. In Fort Smith, residents were evacuated for five weeks and have only been back home for about a month.
At Saturday’s celebration in Fort Smith there was live music, lots of food and plenty of things to do to catch up. But emotions ran high as people reflected on the sacrifices made by firefighters, first responders, contractors and volunteers who worked tirelessly to keep the community safe.
“I felt very happy, very grateful. Our property was still there and our city was safe,” said Ming Raab, who attended the event with her son.
Raab said the evacuation changed her.
She is worried about the future, but tries to stay positive. She says community unity and showing gratitude gives her hope.
“We are grateful for so many people who worked for us,” he said. “They contributed a lot to our community.”
Barry Bernhardt was evacuated to Alberta with his wife. He said it was difficult to watch drive back and witness the devastation caused by the bushfire.
But the evacuation made him appreciate the important things in life.
“It kind of makes you realize that you can’t take life for granted,” Bernhardt said. “I’m just grateful for what we have in this city and for the wonderful people who live here.”
He said it was important to him to attend the event and show gratitude to everyone who helped save the community.
“We really appreciate all the work that all the firefighters and the people who took care of the city have done,” he said.
The City of Fort Smith was represented at the event by Councilwoman Dana Fergusson, Mayor Fred Daniels and Vice Mayor Jay Macdonald.
Macdonald said it was great to see people come together.
“It’s really nice to see everyone out and happy and smiling. So I think it’s really good for everyone’s mental health in the community spirit,” she said.
Macdonald also expressed his gratitude to all the volunteers, firefighters and first responders.
“Thank you all very much,” he said. “There was a lot of effort and a lot of sacrifices.”
Fergusson said people like to give gratitude and that’s why this event was important.
“Everyone is very happy to be back in their community, happy to be back in their homes, happy to be back home to see their friends and have their city safe,” he said.
The event also featured a slideshow from Epéchile Productions, a local production company owned by Pierre-Emmanuel Chaillon. Chaillon remained in the community during the evacuation and photographically documented the work of first responders and volunteers.
Participants also signed a thank you note and took part in a group photo.