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'I'm feeling the hurt': More homes destroyed in Fox Lake as fire remains out of control

Dozens of houses have been lost to fire in a northern Alberta community, and for one High Level resident, those losses are hitting home.

Rick Laboucan grew up in the Woodland Cree community of Fox Lake, and he said it's devastating to know the family home he grew up in won't be there when the community returns.

"My whole family's side over there, our little village side there on the north Fox Lake is all wiped out," Laboucan said. "Family and friends' homes are gone."

Laboucan has been living in High Level since 2010, but his ties to his community and his family are strong. When he heard they would have to leave their homes, he was devastated.

"I'm feeling the hurt that my people back home are feeling," he said. "And I'm feeling the hurt for them, and that's something that's very tough to live with."

He felt helpless when the community was forced to leave, Laboucan said, but once family had settled in High Level, he knew of at least one way he could help.

He grabbed his drum and headed to see his grandparents, something he'd done many times before back home in Fox Lake.

"I'll pack my drum and sing them a song, and that always brings smiles to their faces and keeps their heart happy," he said, adding that drums are a "powerful, sacred tool" for healing.

In a video posted to Facebook, you can hear Laboucan's wife cry as she films her husband drumming and singing a Cree prayer.

"It was really tough, I barely finished that whole song because I was getting pretty emotional," Laboucan said.

While it's too soon to tell what will happen in Fox Lake as the fire is still burning out of control, Laboucan said it's a strong community with deep ties to their culture and history and they will survive the ordeal.

"Everybody is safe, we're all together and Fox Lake is still up," he added. "Fox Lake is not a place, it's everybody. It's everybody that lives there."

"That's what makes it our home."

A GoFundMe has been set up for the residents of Fox Lake.


Fox Lake evacuees, like Laboucan's family, were joined by hundreds more Rainbow Lake residents after that community was evacuated Saturday due to an out-of-control wildfire more than 16,000 hectares in size.

"This has become somewhat of a trend now, to have evacuations happening every summer," said Jena Clarke, High Level's director of community services.

Around 500 people from Rainbow Lake had registered at the High Level Sports Complex, which was made into two separate reception centres to accommodate the second group of evacuees.

In addition to staying at the Sports Complex, community members from both Fox Lake and Rainbow Lake were scattered around the area, some staying in hotels or with family and others heading to nearby towns.

It's not an ideal situation, Clarke said.

"That's a lot of different places to house these people," she said. "I would think in a time like this, you want to be close to your neighbours, you want to be with your community."

The Town of High Level is a major evacuation hub in the region, and Clarke said it needs a dedicated space to accommodate those forced from their homes during inevitable wildfire and flooding.

"These people are already going through a very traumatic event," she said. "Why do we need to make that part more traumatic for them, that they're going into a space that maybe isn't ready all the time because we don't have the equipment needed."

Clarke said the town has been working for around five years to secure federal and provincial funding for a better equipped evacuation space.

"We are isolated up here, and we need these facilities to be able to do this as efficiently as possible to keep everyone safe," she said.

Clarke did not say whether that funding has been given or what the next steps are for the town in regards to that space.  

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb Top Stories


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