One year after a wildfire swept through the community of Fort McMurray, one business owner is remembering and reflecting.
Rob Rice, who owns Home Hardware in Fort McMurray, recalled going in to work like any other day before the mass evacuation.
“You know, it was just a normal day. You’re just doing your business, working hard, making sure you have everything in order and stuff like that,” he said. “And then all of a sudden you’re hearing stories that a fire’s coming, we might get evacuated. And the next thing you know you’ve got to go, get out of town. It came hectic, real fast.”
IN PICTURES: 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire
When he returned to the city, Rice and even some of his employees slept in the offices above the store.
Supplies were in high demand, with RCMP officers and other residents often stopping by after normal business hours. He left his phone number posted on the door so they could get in touch if they needed something.
Now, he considers himself lucky to own a business that is in high demand and can serve a purpose in rebuilding. He explained that many Fort McMurray residents are still rebuilding and recovering.
“You have the people come in and you can tell their patience is worn out, they’re kind of done with it. You have to be patient for them, you have to help them. If it’s not for them we aren’t going to be here, they’re our customer,” said Rice. “And then you have the customer that comes in and will break down and cry, and just want to talk and tell their story and what they’ve been through.”
IN PICTURES: The return to Fort McMurray
Immediately following the tragedy, the staff of the Home Hardware location was whittled down to just a few committed members of the community. Rice said he’s been glad to be able to offer jobs after a tragedy in the midst of an economic downtown.
“We’ve been able to hire more people, and give people jobs, which in turn helps out the residents of Fort McMurray,” he said, adding that his staff is now back up to several dozen people.
As residents began returning to the community, cleaning supplies were in high demand. People were eager to clean their homes and change their furnace filters. As time passed, he began to note a shift in the type of products being bought.
“Probably one surprising thing was lawn mowers,” he said. “People have to catch up on their yard work, I think they want to feel some kind of normal routine at their house.”
For Rice, the return to everyday chores was an indication that the community is rebuilding, just one year after the devastating wildfire.