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Fire road


The locals have nicknames for it: Suicide 63, Highway of Death, Hell’s Highway. Three months ago, The Globe and Mail published a feature article by Dakshana Bascaramurty on the 443-kilometre Highway 63 running from Edmonton to Fort McMurray.

Her focus was on the provincially funded rescue squad that covers the stretch — and for good reason. From 2008 to 2012, she says, there were 2,457 accidents along the route.

From 2002 to 2010, there were an average of eight deaths a year.

The road became a literal highway through hell Tuesday as thousands of residents fleeing Fort McMurray and surrounding areas were forced to drive through flames that enveloped both sides of the highway.

Many said it was like driving through a war zone.

By last Tuesday night, at least one bedroom community had been all but wiped out. By Wednesday midday, there were reports that 1,600 structures had been destroyed— with no letup in the conflagration.

Many residents in B.C. and Alberta are used to forest fires. Five years ago, Slave Lake was partially destroyed by one. They are a fact of life. But this week’s evacuation is unprecedented in Alberta history.

Once the horror stories hit the news, fellow Albertans took to social media with outstretched hands. Facebook and Twitter streams sprang up for people to offer all manner of help, from shelter to sustenance — even for animals.

The Huffington Post compiled a small handful:

• “If anyone is coming as far south as Calgary. I am opening my home.”

• “We have room for 3-4 people in Hinton.”

• “Room for horses/donkeys and dogs, space for an RV as well. Located in Glendon.”

Summerford, N.L., native Nicole Gates, who works at the camps up north, gave up her bed to a stranded woman and her two small children.

As the shock slowly fades, the tears will continue to flow. Miraculously, as of last Wednesday, there were no human casualties. But the material loss is enormous. Over time, the city will rebound. Residents will reclaim their lives. A renewed Fort McMurray will somehow be salvaged from the ashes. Right now, they need your help. Contact the Red Cross through its website (www. redcross.ca) or by phone at 1-800-418-1111.

The Telegram

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