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Residents open their hearts and homes

With dozens of evacuees from Slave Lake taking up temporary residence in Westlock, the local community has banded together to make the stay as smooth and stress free as possible.

With dozens of evacuees from Slave Lake taking up temporary residence in Westlock, the local community has banded together to make the stay as smooth and stress free as possible.

One way many Westlock residents are helping is by opening their homes to the evacuees and hosting them as guests until they’re able to get their lives sorted out after the devastating fire.

Trent Muller is one of those people who has provided a place to stay. However, since his house is full, and his parents are out of town, he opened his parents’ house instead of his own.

He said he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do.

“I thought it’s good community spirit,” he said. “If you put yourself in those peoples’ shoes, it just makes you think about if it happened here.”

He is currently hosting two couples, one of which has a six-month-old baby. He added that one of the couples asked if they could also have another couple stay with them for a few days, so for a few nights there were seven people staying in the house.

In effect, the families that are staying in his parents’ house are living there as if that was their home, Muller said. Other than a few instructions about how things work in the house, the families have been left to their own devices.

To become a host, Muller said he only needed to fill out a short application. After that, he was introduced to his guests.

The length of his guests’ stay is indefinite, he said.

He was asked to make a commitment to host until after Victoria Day, which he said would not be a problem, even though it’s not his house. However, he said he doesn’t think his parents would mind.

“I can’t see my parents asking them to be kicked out,” he said.

Overall, Muller said he’s happy to be able to do something to ease the evacuees’ suffering.

“It’s nice to be able to help out a little bit,” he said. “It’s rewarding. They’re very grateful and it’s a good feeling just being able to help out a little bit.”

Many of those displaced by the Slave Lake fire also have pets they need looked after while they stay in hotels across Westlock.

The Westlock Veterinary Centre has opened its doors to take in as many animals as it can, and look after them while their owners sort out their next move.

Tannis Jackson, part owner and a veterinarian at the centre, said the centre’s capacity is limited, but they’re doing what they can to help.

“We don’t have room for a lot, but the kennels we do have are full,” she said.

The calls looking for a place to house family pets started coming in Sunday evening, when it became clear Slave Lake needed to be evacuated, she said.

Since that time, Jackson said the centre has taken in three dogs, six cats and seven rabbits, and given people peace of mind that their pets are safe.

“The people seem really good,” she said. “They’re grateful to have anywhere to keep them.”

Although the centre is full, Jackson said they’re still able to help people get their pets looked after. She said there is a list at the Westlock and District Community Hall of people who are willing to take in animals and look after them as if they were their own.

The decision to open the clinic for displaced pets was made by the entire staff, she said.

“When someone phones you and needs their dog looked after, you got to do what you got to do,” she said.