With the mass evacuation of almost 90,000 people from northern Alberta and on the heels of an already challenging year for the energy industry, the wildfires that spread into Fort McMurray tested the resolve of these hard-working communities. In the face of such adversity, Albertans have rallied together to do what they do best: help one another. Canadian Natural employees have played a major role in supporting each other and the communities we work in who are affected by the wildfires.
Horizon employees helping evacuees
With our Horizon Oil Sands operations just north of Fort McMurray, as soon as news reached our site about the fires and the city was given an evacuation order, preparations immediately began for an influx of evacuees. Because our operations were not at risk from fire or smoke, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) concentrated primarily on logistics. The goal — to safely accommodate and feed evacuees, and get them out of the region swiftly. Horizon camp kitchens remained open all night to feed people as they arrived on site. Our employees gave up their camp rooms to families, showed people where to go, loaded buses, assisted mobility-impaired evacuees, provided rides, helped out moms and their young children by ensuring they had extra pillows and getting bottles of milk warmed for babies.
From families to children (and their pets) — they were all welcomed at Horizon, regardless of their affiliation with the Company, and given a safe place to sleep, meals and medical attention, as well as flights. Our carrier, Canadian North, worked with Aerodrome staff to provide flights until all evacuees had been flown out to Calgary or Edmonton. In all, Horizon ended up housing and/or flying out more than 2,700 evacuees.
We provided support and assistance for our neighbours in Aboriginal communities including Fort McKay, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation (CPDFN), and Conklin, through the challenging time. Our Horizon medical facilities were made available to Fort McKay community members when the hospital in Fort McMurray was closed. We also facilitated the delivery of supplies to CDPFN, and remained on call to support Conklin while also ensuring Aboriginal Peoples at the evacuation center in Lac La Biche received the support that they needed.
Some of the stories that we will remember include:
- Flying one of our employees’ wife, who was pregnant, and her family, to safely give birth in Edmonton.
- Reuniting three young children with their parents after they were separated when they were released from school the day the fires broke out in the city (their teacher cared for the children and took them to Horizon while their parents drove on to Edmonton. Once the children were at Horizon, Human Resources staff watched over the kids until their flight was ready).
- Delivering food and water to families stranded on the Horizon Highway and bringing them back to site to be put on flights.
Left: Horizon employee Michael Byrne and his family were on the first flight flown out from Horizon site. Their daughter, Bristol, was born not long after their arrival in Edmonton. Right: Pet sitting on flight from the Aerodrome.
Horizon staff fighting the fire in Fort McMurray
While all the activity to support evacuees was taking place at our camps, Horizon helped out in another crucial way, immediately providing firefighter support when the mutual aid call went out from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) to oil sands operations. Members from our Emergency Services team raced down to Fort McMurray to join the crews from the city and our industry partners to protect and save the vast majority of the city. Other firefighters remained on site, allowing us to maintain a full complement of professional emergency staff, as per our safety procedures.
During the first few days of the response effort, Canadian Natural sent two crews of five firefighters for each day and night shift. Later on, as directed by the RMWB and their shifting needs, we moved to one crew of five firefighters for each shift. The Horizon Emergency Services team continued to provide ongoing support as needed and will be ready to continue that assistance as long as the RMWB requires.
Assistance from other areas of operations
With the health and safety of our employees and their families guiding our hearts and efforts, Canadian Natural staff quickly joined forces across our operations to help in any way they could. In addition to cash donations from Canadian and International offices, other initiatives from our staff included:
- The Kirby South operations team, southeast of Fort McMurray, assisted evacuees who were fleeing south on Highway 881. They deployed a fuel truck to supply stranded motorists with essentials including bagged lunches, fuel and water, while supplies were also available at our plant site.
- Elsewhere, Heavy Oil North Siebert employees arranged for a collection of dry goods and toiletries for evacuees from Wandering River. At the Bold Centre, a multi-recreational facility turned evacuation centre in Lac La Biche, goody bags were stuffed with toys and treats for displaced children.
- At our Bonnyville field office, water, food and toys were delivered to families waiting in line. BBQs were arranged by both the Wolf Lake and the Bonnyville offices to raise additional funds and feed evacuees.
- A group of 40 employees from our Information Systems (IS) team lent a hand building YMM Help, a website providing essential steps for evacuees to take, including accommodation matching and important updates on financial assistance. Building this website was a huge undertaking that first involved our IS team combing the internet and social media feeds for the offers of help to evacuees that formed the basis of the website’s data, with social media posts reaching over two million people.
Canadian Natural continues to work together with the community, local agencies, governments and industry to identify the best way for us to help restore a thriving community in Fort McMurray.