FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – The Canadian Red Cross says $299 million has been raised to help with recovery from the Fort McMurray wildfire, with some money earmarked for people who can’t make their mortgage payments or didn’t have enough insurance.
Red Cross CEO Conrad Sauve said this “unprecedented outpouring of support” included $165 million donated by Canadians to the charity.
The federal government contributed $104 million to match funds donated made by individual Canadians and the province matched $30 million given by individual Albertans.
“Canadians were touched by seeing fellow Canadians being evacuated and the fire and responded tremendously,” Sauve said Wednesday. “We have got donations from every part of the country.”
The total far exceeds the $45 million people donated in 2013 for the catastrophic floods in southern Alberta and $14.8 million for the rail disaster in Lac Megantic, Que.
On May 3 the massive wildfire fire forced the evacuation of almost 90,000 people from the Fort McMurray area.
The flames destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings, caused the shutdown of two key oilsands facilities and burned almost 5,900 square kilometres of timber.
Since early June, residents have been returning to the community to assess the damage and rebuild.
Sauve said that to date, almost $200 million has been allocated for the people of Fort McMurray, including direct cash payments of $84.4 million already handed out to residents.
There will be further help for residents who were uninsured or didn’t have enough insurance to cover their losses. Money will be available to help people rebuild their homes, make rent or mortgage payments and to replace furniture, appliances and household goods.
“The Red Cross — we don’t pass a judgment on why people need help,” Sauve said. “We help those in need — that is the humanitarian imperative of what we do.”
Another $50 million will be given to charities, including food banks, which have been helping to feed people in Fort McMurray and residents who fled to other communities in Alberta.
About $30 million is being set aside to help small businesses recover and $12 million will be spent on community resiliency and fire prevention.
Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Laravee said details on how this money will be spent will be released in the coming weeks.
An organization that keeps tabs on how charities spend donations praised the Red Cross for its handling of the Fort McMurray disaster.
Greg Thomson of Charity Intelligence Canada said the Red Cross has been open about its spending and has moved quickly to get money to people who need it.
Thomson said in the first three months since the wildfire the charity has allocated just over half of the donations — more quickly than the Alberta floods and Lac Megantic.
“We are quite pleased with the way the Red Cross has handled this significant amount of donations,” Thomson said from Toronto.
“We are certainly looking for as much disclosure as possible.”
The Red Cross said it typically issues donor reports following a major fundraising appeal at the one-month, three-month, six-month, one-year, two-year and three-year mark on how money has been allocated and spent in response to a disaster.
The charity said it also posts audited financial statements for major funding appeals such as the Alberta wildfire on its website.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton