Last Thursday, April the 11th, our community experienced a disaster. In some sort of bizarre BBQ/Smoker accident, a fire was sparked that, with alarming speed, burned the 18 unit apartment building at the south end of Penhold to the ground.

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We are a small community of just over 2500 people. Of course, a fire of this magnitude would be horrible in any community, but you’d think that a small town like ours, with fewer people and limited resources, would be completely overwhelmed. No so! A series of things went right. A fire fighter who lives in the building happened to be home; he smelled smoke, alerted the fire department and immediately began evacuating the building. The Peace Officer on duty arrived within a very few minutes and also worked feverishly to get the building emptied. Everyone (except possibly some cats still unaccounted for) exited safely. It cannot be overstated: these two gentlemen made the difference between life and death.

 

Over fifty fire fighters responded and fought that fire for about 20 hours (more or less; I couldn’t find information on the exact length of time). I was at a conference in Kananaskis when news of the fire broke; when I drove into town at 12:30 AM I was devastated to see a few sticks burning where there once stood a three-story building.

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It was, by all accounts, a terrible scene. All of the belongings for every person, couple or family in that building are completely gone. Gone. Nothing left. It’s hard to grasp.

Now comes the great part.

Within two hours of the onset of the fire, community members, in droves, began delivering food, clothing, bedding and other supplies to the community hall (Facebook, among other forms of communication, be thanked!). I peeked in upon my return to town and was more than a bit choked up to see the entire dance floor covered in out poured love.

The next morning I went to the hall to help move all the donations to the Multiplex (we needed to do this because the hall was booked for a wedding). I drove up in my pick up and fell in line behind about a dozen other trucks. There were easily 30 or more people there sorting donations and loading them onto the vehicles. When my truck got to the front of the line, there were at least ten more behind me. I’m going to guess that over the course of Friday, more than 50 or 60 people volunteered in one capacity or another.

Here are some of the awesome stories:

– One of the residents of the building went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy. Several people offered to purchase a new car seat. Many have donated (and are still donating) formula and diapers.

– The Jr Generals hockey team were having a weekend tournament in the Multiplex. They donated the proceeds of their 50/50 to the cause (estimated at around $1200).

– The Sheraton in Red Deer offered to bring in food.

– People from all around the region messaged that they could offer lodging to people and families affected by the fire.

– Community members have continued to use Facebook to ask for specific donations and the generosity continues to flow unabated.

– Town Council and staff worked tirelessly in a well-coordinated effort to organize everything. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were prompt, compassionate and very helpful.

These are just a few of the wonderful stories I know about… I’m sure there are dozens more (if you know some, feel free to post them in the comments!).

 

We must not forget that this is a really bad thing and that the devastating effects will linger for the foreseeable future; but, in the face of it, there’s a triumph of community spirit, a conquering of compassion, proof that we still know how to be true neighbours. We won’t stop helping, caring, giving.

It’s easy to slide into disconnectedness and apathy, even negativity about community. April 11th, that terrible day, is a great reminder that we’re all in this together and when push comes to shove, we’ve got each other’s backs.

Thank you, Penhold.

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