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Yukoners pull together to support Fort McMurray

Yukoners are banding together this week to help those affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurray. One of them is Gary Atkins, who has a personal connection to the area.

Yukoners are banding together this week to help those affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurray.

One of them is Gary Atkins, who has a personal connection to the area.

“My first wife is from Fort McMurray and between visiting her and performing in the area, it’s almost like a second home to me,” he said.

“I grew up in Wetaskiwin and a lot of folks that are in Fort McMurray are folks that we all know. We’ve got friends and friends of family literally living in tents and campers up and down the highway right now, so we thought we’d try to mobilize as quickly as possible.”

The local musician and his partner, Pam Brown, have organized a fundraising concert at the Jarvis Street Saloon on Friday evening.

Acts such as Kim Beggs, Soul Migration, Diyet and Gramma Susie are scheduled to perform, and there will be a silent auction as well.

Atkins said he was “floored” by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm for the event.

Entrance is by cash donation and $1 from the sale of every bottle of beer purchased that night will be donated by the saloon to the cause. All proceeds will be forwarded to the Canadian Red Cross.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson also has connections in Fort McMurray, where her brother Peter recently lost his Beacon Hill home.

“His house is totally gone,” she said.

“He lived in a townhouse development over 20 years. He ended up evacuating to the northern camps.

“It took him about five hours to go 80 kilometres.”

Hanson’s brother is now in Canmore with one of her other siblings, she added.

She said she encouraged Yukoners to donate cash whenever possible, so people can make the choice about what they need to replace.

In Watson Lake, students at the Johnson Elementary School raised over $1,900 for the cause by organizing a Break the Balloon fundraiser.

Karalee Smith, a teacher at the school, said it was her class’s turn to take part in a random act of kindness, part of a year-long initiative at the school.

“The Fort Mac fire gave us an opportunity to do something nice for another community,” she said.

“Students wanted to help the people of Fort McMurray as we couldn’t believe how many people had to leave their homes.”

The class hosted a balloon pop event to raise funds and was initially expecting to raise about $500, Smith said.

Students went door-to-door and asked people to buy a balloon. Inside each one was a thank-you note that matched a prize that had been donated by a person or business in the community.

The students ended up raising $1,902 for the Canadian Red Cross.

“It just shows how caring our community is and how much we want to support our student initiatives,” Smith said.

According to CTV News yesterday, officials said the wildfire burning near Fort McMurray had grown to 229,000 hectares, after two fires in the area joined.

More than 80,000 residents have been forced to evacuate the city and over 1,600 homes have been destroyed.

In the Fort McMurray area alone, officials said 700 firefighters, 26 helicopters, 13 air tankers and 46 pieces of heavy equipment are working on the fire, according to CTV.

Olivia Yaklin is a Whitehorse resident who lived in Fort McMurray in 2008. She’s organizing a community yard sale to help raise funds for the cause.

“The community is very near and dear to my heart,” she said.

“It’s one of the most generous communities I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. So far we have a ton of support for this cause and we really want to make it count.”

The event, called Disaster Strikes - Klondike Unites, will be held on May 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the location still to be determined. More information will be posted to the Yukon Fort McMurray Fundraiser Facebook page.

Other fundraising events going on this week include a show by Celtic Tyde at Miner’s Daughter this evening at 5:30 p.m.

Admission is by donation. One dollar from every drink and $5 from every pizza will go to the Canadian Red Cross.

On Sunday morning from 10 to 11 a.m., Brittany Widrig is organizing an “insanity workout” held at Peak Fitness in Riverdale. Participation is by donation and all proceeds will go to the Canadian Red Cross.

Wildfire activity in the Yukon has been low so far this season. A small fire was extinguished near the Northland Trailer Park on Saturday afternoon, marking the third fire in the territory so far.

By this time last year, seven fires had already burned 38.6 hectares of land.

George Maratos, spokesperson for Yukon Wildland Fire Management, said it’s still too early to determine how bad the upcoming wildfire season will be in the territory.

Contact Myles Dolphin at