Sometimes disaster just doesn't seem real. It doesn't matter how many times you see the images on the news, read the witness testimonies, or even see the aftermath with your own eyes, there's a surreal feeling to it all. For third year Nipissing men's hockey forward Jaret Smith, the Fort McMurray wildfire is as real as it gets.
"All my friends have been evacuated that still live up there," says Smith, a Fort McMurray, Alb. native, "I have four or five friends whose houses have burned down, and my aunt's got taken down to make a firebed."
Although now working in Red Deer, Alb. for the summer, Smith still has many connections in the town he called home until his high school days. After moving away to play bantam and midget hockey with the Red Deer Rebels, Smith was summoned back north to begin his junior career with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL.
"Every home game was a packed barn," Smith says of his time with the Oil Barons, "It's definitely a place that kids should want to go play junior hockey."
During the 2011-12 season which saw Smith suit up 22 times for the Oil Barons, he roomed with teammate Kevin Lacroix, who finds himself deeply involved with stopping the wildfires.
"[Lacroix] is actually one of the firefighters fighting the fire in Fort Mac," says Smith, "There were times when he went 48 hours without sleep fighting the fire. So hats off to him for being an absolute hero."
Although Smith isn't fighting the fire himself, he's doing his part in helping the recovery effort.
Now standing at 1,751 retweets, the money total sits at $175, but Smith hasn't cashed in the donation just yet.
"I want to get it to 2,000 so I can donate at least $200," says Smith, "I didn't actually have a clue how far it would get, but Chris Phillips from the Ottawa Senators retweeted me, and it kind of took off after that. I had a couple buddies tweet it at Justin Bieber. I kinda hoped for my wallet's sake that he didn't retweet it."
As Smith continues to watch his donation total grow, there's another Nipissing student-athlete doing her part to give back.
Sam Strassburger is a third year forward on the women's hockey team who had gone back to her hometown of Schreiber, Ont. after the end of the second semester.
"There were a couple of families from [Schreiber] who were affected when they moved out to Fort McMurray. So I gathered about three garbage bags of clothing and sent it off," says Strassburger.
Strassburger accounted Jaret Smith's actions as part of what inspired her to help out despite being more than a province away from the fires. But forest fires are nothing new to Strassburger.
"My dad used to work for M&R Fire Protection, so I've been around forest fires forever," recounts Strassburger, "When I was little, Terrace Bay almost had to get evacuated and Wawa and White River got evacuated due to a fire a long, long time ago, but I've seen it affect so many people."
As the locals of Fort McMurray begin to put the pieces of their city back together, the Strassburger family continues to help out those affected, and for Jaret Smith, he has big plans for the rest of his summer.
"I'm trying to get a fundraiser and silent auction going in Red Deer at one of the bars there," says Smith, "I'm gonna try and gather some items, whether it be signed sticks from pros in the area, or signed jerseys, signed pictures, whatever I can get my hands on. All the proceeds from that will be donated to the Red Cross."
The process will entail a busy summer for Smith, but he's more than happy to put in the work to help recover the community that gave him his start in junior hockey.
For those looking to donate to the Canadian Red Cross to help the Alberta fire recovery, donations can be made here
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)