United Rentals sent two tankers full of 30,000 liters of gasoline and three support vehicles to give away free gasoline to about 1,200 stranded motorists fleeing the massive Alberta fires that have forced the evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada this week. United also filled several pickup trucks with bottled water to give away to those in need. The tankers were also able to provide fuel to police and other emergency vehicles that weren’t able to find supplies.
“There is only one highway going south from Fort McMurray,” Scott Fisher, United Rentals’ regional vice president for western Canada told RER. “There were abandoned vehicles all along the highways and families stuck with only a quarter tank of gas and if you start driving down the highway, there are no gas stations for 100 miles, and those gas stations were overwhelmed. We set up a fueling station where they are all bottlenecked at Highway 81 and Highway 63 and fueled about 1,200 vehicles. People had no time to get gas, they basically had to run home, grab a few belongings and leave their city. The whole scene was total gridlock, such a quick evacuation, they just couldn’t get fuel.”
United Rentals has two large stores in Fort McMurray under mandatory evacuation orders, and six onsite facilities where some staff remains although those sites are being evacuated as well as the massive fires rage. The fires have destroyed at least 1,600 houses and structures according to official estimates at this point including the homes of at least 14 United Rentals employees, although since the city has been completely evacuated it is still not possible for a complete accounting. United Rentals is working out temporary accommodations for 180 employees and their families, many of them in the Edmonton area, about four hours south of Fort McMurray.
Fires are common in the area, but because of current severe drought conditions, these fires have been far more severe than normal.
“This year we had no snow to speak of, we had a drought and the whole province is extremely dry, and we knew there would be a lot of fires,” Fisher said. “There have been fires that have caused oil sites to be shut down in the past, but this is the first time the fires have come into the city and it has been devastating.”
United Rentals did not charge anybody for gasoline, water or other supplies. “We gave it away to customers, to competitors, to anybody who needed fuel,” said Fisher. “We’re a large company, but a compassionate one.” United had two mechanics on the team who stopped to help stranded motorists as they worked their way up Highway 63.