Thursday, May 19, 2011

LDS Chapel Among The Numerous Buildings Destroyed In The Slave Lake Wildfire In Alberta

A chapel belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the numerous buildings destroyed in the wildfire that roared through the community of Slave Lake, Alberta on Sunday May 15th, 2011. The wildfire is believed to have destroyed as much as one-third of the community. The Edmonton Journal previously published a detailed account on how the fire got started.

According to the Edmonton Journal, Paul Burkholder, a member of the LDS branch who is working in the Slave Lake area as a safety officer for a highway maintenance company, said “It’s burnt to the ground...Everything west of our church is gone and south as well.” Steve Anderson, the Slave Lake branch president, said the 20-year-old building might have burned quickly because of its cedar shake roof. The LDS website also reports that the homes of 10 branch members have been destroyed, as well.

The chapel was located at 901 6th Ave. SE, which puts it in the southeast part of town, which bore the brunt of the destruction. If everything south and west of the chapel is gone, then that means the chapel was right in the main fire corridor. The Slave Lake Branch is one of 12 congregations in the Edmonton Alberta Riverbend Stake. The sheer magnitude of the destruction in Slave Lake was best captured by CTV Edmonton photographer Cam Wiebe, who took a chopper ride over the area on May 16th and shot the following video:

An estimated 95 percent of Slave Lake's 7,000 residents have evacuated, some as far south as Edmonton (200 kilometers away). Because there are no utilities available at this time, it is uncertain when they'll be able to return; unofficial word is not for at least another two weeks. However, some of the uncertainty for the evacuees was allayed when the town released a detailed photographic map which shows 374 lots destroyed and another 52 damaged by the wildfires. There is also a map of homes in the nearby Municipal District of Lesser Slave River which shows 59 lots were destroyed and 32 were damaged. The maps were shown to people at evacuation centres in Athabasca, Westlock and Edmonton, and the map for Slave Lake is posted online HERE and HERE.

For those who would like to help in disaster relief, information is posted on the CBC website.

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