Several American Red Cross staffers and volunteers from Iowa are leaving today and tomorrow to help with the disaster relief operation underway in Alberta, Canada.
Kara Kelly, spokeswoman for the agency’s Iowa Region, is among those who are deploying for a mission of one to three weeks due to the massive wildfire that’s swept across the province.
“My position with the Red Cross is in public affairs,” Kelly says. “I’m going as part of a communications support team to help the Canadian Red Cross tell stories and manage media relations while I’m there.”
Other Iowans with the Red Cross who are heading to Canada are from cities including West Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. They’ll be doing case work with individuals and families, helping them through the recovery process.
“Upwards of 70,000 people have been evacuated from Fort McMurray so there’s a huge sheltering operation underway,” Kelly says. “They’ll also be helping with feeding and water. A lot of the infrastructure is down up there.” The wildfire in Alberta has threatened a dozen communities since it started spreading on May 1st. The mandatory evacuation of Fort McMurray is the largest fire-related evacuation in the region’s history.
Smoke from the wildfires reached Iowa last weekend and prompted the DNR to issue a health advisory, and the Iowans who are heading to Canada are keenly aware. “We have been told to be aware there are major air quality issues, there’s water quality issues, among other things,” Kelly says. “We have done a large, long health questionnaire to make sure we don’t have any breathing issues that may be escalated due to the air quality up there.”
The latest reports say more than 2,400 homes and buildings have been gutted by the wildfire, which covers some 884 square miles. “It’s a huge area that’s been effected,” Kelly says. “They’re saying this is potentially the largest disaster that Canada has ever seen.” Iowans who would like to donate to the Red Cross response to the Canadian wildfire should contact their nearest local chapter.