Tim Hortons among High Level, Alta. businesses still open despite wildfire evacuation
Published Thursday, May 23, 2019 12:10PM EDT
As firefighters and emergency crews spend long days battling a raging wildfire threatening an evacuated town in northern Alberta, they’re finding welcome relief in the form of a hot cup of coffee and an appreciative smile at the local Tim Hortons that is staying open despite the risk.
On Wednesday, officials for the small town of High Level, Alta. said the massive wildfire now covers 920 square kilometres and is only three kilometres away from the community. They also said an evacuation order Monday, that saw approximately 5,000 residents from the town and surrounding areas leave their homes, will continue to be in place for the “foreseeable future.”
Despite the potential danger, High Level’s local Tim Hortons is offering a limited menu, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Jared Snyder, who co-owns the location with his mother and father, said they didn’t hesitate when emergency services asked them to keep the business open to serve people fighting the fire.
“It wasn’t much of a decision at all,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday. “It was an absolute ‘Yes. We’ll do that.’”
The Tim Hortons is currently operating with only 10 staff members and a handful of volunteers.
“I know a few of our team members were upset because they wanted to stay and help us,” he said, explaining why some were told they couldn’t stick around. “But unfortunately we had to tell some people ‘No you got to evacuate. You got a family to worry about.’”
Snyder said they’re doing the best they can with their remaining workers.
“They’re dedicated and loyal and they’re fantastic at what they do so it was really heartwarming to see that everyone wanted to stay,” he said.
The chain restaurant isn’t the only business keeping their doors open for emergency crews during the evacuation period. The local Home Hardware is also staying open to provide essential services for the firefighting effort after town officials from the forestry department asked them to assist.
Hotels, too, are providing accommodations for the influx of firefighters and emergency personnel staying in High Level to fight the wildfire. There are five hotels currently staying open in the town, including the Flamingo Inn, where they’re providing rooms and meals to firefighters.
Staff member Jamaica Malzaro said the inn will stay open for as long as they’re allowed.
“It’s good to help just like that,” she told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.
Several gas stations have remained open to provide fuel for fire trucks and other emergency service vehicles.
In the south end of town, the Co-op Cardlock has stayed open throughout the evacuation. Manager Wayne Noseworthy said they were the only gas station in town selling fuel during a power outage earlier in the week because they had installed a back-up generator a week before. He said the gas station plans to stay open until they’re told to leave.
“We’re just trying to help out as much as possible,” he said.
The Petro Canada and Esso stations are also staying open.
Back at the Tim Hortons, Snyder said it’s been pretty incredible to witness people arrive in the small community to help out during this period of uncertainty.
“We’ve got people from all over western Canada coming to our community to help fight this fire and it’s not just firefighters and emergency personnel, it’s dozer operators, truck drivers, water truck drivers,” he said. “The help is very much appreciated.”
Snyder said he’s really grateful to contribute in some way and that his restaurant is providing some comfort to those on the front lines.
“When people are coming in here they look tired, they’re covered in dirt, and they’re working hard,” he said. “We’re able to give them a hot cup of coffee or an iced capp and a smile, have a short chat with them, and you know maybe brighten up their day a little bit.”