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From British Columbia to the U.S. and Australia, forest fires have become a way of life for IGA communities around the world. See how IGA retailers are stepping up to do their part to support the brave firefighters protecting their communities.
Living in forested British Columbia means experiencing more than a fair share of wildfires. But when a large blaze ignited in late June in the community of Madeira Park, the IGA store there was literally in the line of fire.
“It was just outside the store, that’s how scary it was,” said Store Owner Troy Callewaert. “We’re down at sea level and the fire started on a hill right above us. You could look up and see the flames.”
Luckily for the community of about 3,000 year-round residents, there weren’t that many fires happening across B.C. at that time, so fire crews were activated right away.
Soon, there were five helicopters and a water bomber plane taking turns drawing and dumping water from the ocean and area lakes—and fire retardant as well—on the flames.
“It was quite the mini air show—fascinating to watch but at the same time we didn’t want it to be worse than it was,” Callewaert said. With about 50-70 firefighters in town working on the blaze, Madeira Park residents rallied to give their support.
“That’s what our little community is like,” said Callewaert. “We had people wanting to make them meals, bake cookies.”
To do their part, the store pulled double duty, extending store hours to ensure firefighters were able to get something to eat at the end of the day, said Callewaert. On a couple of long fire-fighting days, Callewaert reopened the store after closing and kept it open for an hour or so, with a few employees making sandwiches and running the registers.
“They came in covered in soot, and it was warm outside, too. So I broke out ice cream sandwiches and passed them out. They loved it, said ‘this is the power food for us,’” he said with a laugh. “They told me, 'you’re a legend,’ and I was like, ‘No, you guys are the heroes.’”
In a post on Facebook that received more than 400 likes and more than 50 shares, the store recognized the firefighters’ work and gave kudos to employees who helped stay late and keep the store open.
It took about three weeks before the fire and all the hot spots were fully out, and life in Madeira Park was back to its normal busy summer tourism season, said Callewaert. “This was not something you want to happen all the time, but at IGA, we’re all about helping out our community.”
In the mountain town of Susanville, California, located in the northeastern part of the state, summer means forest fire season.
“Almost every summer there is unfortunately some fire close to our area that Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service, and/or the Bureau of Land Management are involved with,” said Jessica Miller, assistant store director at Susanville Supermarket IGA.
Since 2001, the store has been the go-to when the fire fighting agencies can’t get a catering service. “Our lunches meet their contractual obligation and they know they can rely on us for a quick turn-around time and pick up the lunches the same day they place the order,” she said.
According to Miller, orders can range from 50 to 1,200 lunches, and IGA staff never know when or if the call’s going to come and what the numbers will be. In a recent nearby fire that began at the end of August, the Susanville lunch crew made 3,000 lunches in two weeks.
“We’ve learned it takes a great crew to be able to accommodate the amount of lunches we make and we have an amazing crew, due to the environment [owners] Rick and Anna Stewart have created at the store. People want to help and we even have customers who see what we’re doing and volunteer to pitch in,” said Miller.
It’s a service the store is honored to be able to provide, added Anna Stewart. “It’s a way to let them know how much they are appreciated, and treat them like the hometown heroes they are!”
Across the globe in the southeastern part of Queensland, Australia, employees at Spano’s Supa IGA Gatton are doing their part to help residents suffering in the aftermath of recent wildfires.
According to news reports, the nearby community of Stanthorpe was hit hard by fires that destroyed homes, on top of extreme water shortages. Dam levels that provide water to the area reached an all-time low due to drought conditions that also contributed to the dangerous recent round of fires.
In a news report, Gatton IGA Front End Manager Kayla Embrey said she didn't realize how bad the situation was until she spoke to her Stanthorpe-based colleague. "She said they can't drink the tap water any more, it's all muddy,” Embrey said. "So they don't really have much at all...their dam that supplies them is nearly dry.”
The store rallied and put together a Water for the West campaign, with employees wearing blue to help promote the cause. During the weeklong campaign, customers were encouraged to buy water and/or give cash to supply water to Stanthrope residents.
The store gave out pieces from a giant blue cake to sweeten the deal for donations, too. And store owners donated pallets of water on top of the in-store fundraising. "We thought we would give our customers the opportunity, if they wanted to donate but didn't know how to get the water out there,” said Embrey.