With 80-90,000 people displaced, 2,400 homes and businesses destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of acres of land burned, it's hard to imagine much good coming from the devastating fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
And yet, sometimes tragedy brings out the best in us, as Fort McMurray evacuee Kim Boehme and his wife, Sharon, have learned over the past severals weeks, witnessing many miracles and examples of Christlike service.
Boehme was at work on May 2, 2016, when the fire began progressing northward, forcing entire communities to evacuate. Fighting traffic so thick that "the only people who were moving were people walking, biking, or motor-biking," he eventually met up with his wife downtown.
"By that time the whole city was under evacuation orders," Boehme recalls. "Downtown was completely vacant. Everything was closed down, smoky, locked up, boarded up. There was only the odd policeman on the intersection directing traffic."
The Boehmes slowly made it to the home of a friend outside of town, but they admit they saw a small personal miracle—they shouldn't have made it as far as they did with the fuel they had.
"Our gas tank seemed to be 'the oil that kept burning,'" Boehme shares. Despite having only one tank of gas and spending over 12 hours idling and driving through stop-and-go traffic, Boehme says their tank thankfully kept going.
There were, however, many others whose tanks did run out of gas. These stranded residents were the recipients of a different kind of miracle, as the Boehmes recall watching others frequently reaching out to help those in need, whether with water bottles, fuel, or food.
"I was watching thousands of acts of Christlike service by people who didn’t even know it was Christlike service," Boehme says. "They were just good people acting on their conscience and their knowledge and their skills and were helping whoever they could." From sharing gas with as many as they could to breaking into their personal emergency preparedness supplies, members and nonmembers alike worked side by side, showing patience and consideration, with not a word of anger surfacing among the fleeing evacuees or their rescuers.
Eventually, the Boehmes, who had been in the process of selling their Fort McMurray home, made it to a home they had recently purchased in Edmonton, Alberta. And while the ordeal was a difficult one, their fears were overridden by a sense of calm.
Boehme attributes part of that calm to the network of people that membership in the Church has created for his family and others. "I think as a Church member, sometimes we take for granted how much the network will take care of you. . .a lot who are not members or were new to the city or didn’t have a network of friends were a lot more fearful and in desperate situations," he says. "I know a few members on the way to Edmonton. I didn’t have to, but I knew that I could have [stopped for help]."
He goes on, however, to share the testimony that helped sustain him and his family during the uncertain events. "Bad things have happened to me and my family in the past, but I’m always confident the Lord is mindful of us—no more me than any of his other children on the planet. That knowledge gives an individual who has it some confidence that, no matter what happens, the Lord has got you in mind. Whether you come through unscathed or whether you lose something precious or perhaps even your life or your health, things will be compensated for if you trust in the Lord."
For Fort McMurray residents, Boehme expects one of those blessings to be an increased sense of community and love when everyone is finally able to return. "It was very much a community bonding experience," he says. "As we all get back to Fort McMurray, there will be a lot of people who made new friends and who were saved by complete strangers who are no longer complete strangers." And, like the new life that comes from the ashes of a fire, "there’ll be a lot of renewal generated from those experiences."