Victoria residents unite for Fort McMurray fire victims

With love, Victoria, will be delivering donations to residents in Fort McMurray that are most in need this week.

Shocked, disturbed and helpless. That’s how Cassandra Ostlund felt as she watched the dramatic images of giant flames looming over residents trying to flee the forest fires consuming parts of Fort McMurray.

The chilling images brought back memories of what the Victoria resident went through when her Calgary home burned to the ground more than 20 years ago. The blaze was sparked by people living in the basement who had left a candle unattended. Ostlund woke up in the middle of the night to find her home filled with smoke and flames.

“I was traumatized, I was shocked. It was like a nightmare. There was so much to do it was overwhelming,” said Ostlund about the ordeal. “It was over 20 years ago and it still stays with me. It affected me emotionally and mentally.”

It took a couple months before Oslund found a new place to live and could start replacing items she lost in the blaze, but the emotional impact refused to go away.

Although firefighters managed to save about 95 per cent of Fort McMurray, the devastation from the fire — which consumed about 2,400 homes and buildings — is hard for Oslund to comprehend, which is why she began gathering a small pile of items to donate to victims of the fire.

Thanks to the Facebook group, With Love, Victoria, that small pile has now turned into a large truck and trailer that will be travelling to Fort McMurray this week to deliver donations at locations most in need. Made up of residents throughout the capital region, the group plans to leave Thursday with the truckload of items.

“We are trying to make sure that they have what they need. There’s a lot of people in Victoria that care and want to help,” said Ostlund, who gets emotional when she talks about the videos she’s seen of the damage in Fort McMurray.

“I don’t think there is a way to fully comprehend what you’re going to see until you get there. It’s absolute destruction.”

A fundraising barbecue will take place in the Quality Foods parking lot at 977 Langford Parkway between noon and 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Donations of essential items (such as toiletries, socks, underwear, pillows and blankets) can be dropped off as well. A full list of items is available on the With Love, Victoria Facebook page.

So far the B.C. government has donated $300,000 to the Canadian Red Cross for support relief. More than $276,000 was donated by residents at B.C. Liquor Stores during the course of a week. Donations are still being accepted at any B.C. Liquor Store locations.