In the wake of wild fires that have displaced almost 90,000 people from Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, Melody Rowell and Ian Bates of National Geographic came to photograph and tell the stories of some of the evacuees. What they found in the midst of chaos was hope and generosity.

As the fire raged all around, if residents had not already left town, a knock at the door from police was the last call. People were given 10 minutes to gather up what they could and get out of town. They would then spend hours in traffic, and most were unsure about where they were going. They also didn't know if their homes would still be standing when they returned. One thing is sure, the town that so many have called home for so long, will not be the same when they are allowed to come back.

The photo above is Luke Thwaits. He is a commercial electrician, and he watched from across the street as the fire burned down the shop where he lived and kept all his tools.
Although he had lost all his belongings and the costly tools of his trade, he gathered up what meant the most to him--his 5 dogs and got out of danger. He drove around with them for days trying to figure out where to stay [that would take him and his beloved pets]. Eventually, he says, something caught his eye in the oil workers camp of Wandering River.

“I just happened to see a crowd of lights in the dark, and it was the fire station. Right when I got there they happened to be unloading the trucks of water and food. Emotionally I was really good until I started seeing all these people helping each other. This random guy looked at me and was like, ’You’re all black [from ash]; you really need a shower.’ He gave me a towel and said, ‘Go have a shower.’ I got out of my car and got to have a shower at the fire station, and I was just bawling. I couldn’t believe everyone helping one another,” he says.

“I was here for a few days, and I was scrambling around [trying to take care of all] the dogs. I left for a few days to talk to farmers, looking for a spot the dogs could stay at. [The oil workers] told me to come back, and they said if I wanted this shed I could have it.” Thwaits says he now just wants to return home to Fort McMurray, where he moved in 2011 looking to settle down. “I don’t care if the oil [industry] goes down,” he says. “I just love this town.”

Rowell and Bates recorded many more stories of people who are just like us, but by an act of nature or war, they have been pushed out of their homes, losing every material thing they owned and facing an uncertain future. Like the refugees of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, the need is personally and universally overwhelming. Luke Thwaits “was just bawling…,” he said. Overcome with emotion, he couldn’t believe the generosity of those giving aid to him and others who were so desperately in need. But he should believe it. 

Human generosity should be so obvious and common in our daily lives—disaster or no disaster--that there is no surprise when someone reaches out a hand to help. We are the generous. Where the rubber meets the road, we are there. And the vast majority of us belong to this inclusive and happy club. 

Show your generosity. Shine like those lights Luke could see at the fire station. Shine so that those who need it, can see our light even in the darkest of times.