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National Clothesline
It was the largest wildfire evacuation in Albertan history. When the Horse River Fire swept
through the town of Fort McMurray in May, about 80,000 residents left the city right before flames
destroyed approximately 2,400 homes and buildings.
Many Canadians couldn’t return for a month; others will still have to wait many more before
they can open their homes. Those who did come back, though, had damages to repair, and one
business — EnviroClean Drycleaners — wanted to do its part to help people recover something as
simple and necessary as their smoke-damaged wardrobes.
The business, owned by the father-and-son team of Wayne and Ryan Pinkney, first opened its
doors in late 2014, making it a newcomer to the market; however, what the company lacked in
experience, it more than made up for in effort to help the people of Fort McMurray.
EnviroClean was one of the first businesses back open for business following the conclusion of
the month-long evacuation. The Pinkneys gave their employees a “resettlement allowance” to
make sure they could get back to town as soon as possible and take on the immense workload.
The plant has been running at peak capacity ever since. At one point, an employee shift lasted
until 4 a.m.
“In June, we hardly had any days off,” recalled plant manager Cindy Julation. “Starting at the
end of July, I finally gave them a day off a week… until now. It’s still one day a week and we’re
working 12 hours a day.”
According to the elder Pinkney, the business is handling the work of over a dozen clothes
restoration companies who sought them out as they were the only cleaners in the middle of
downtown.
“As soon as the people were allowed back in, the restoration people were showing up like big
dogs on a steak,” Wayne said.
“None of them expected that there would be an operation as sophisticated as ours,” he added.
“That’s what I’m told. They all had plans for trucking [the work] to Winnipeg, which would be 700
miles. Edmonton would be 270 miles. Calgary would be 450. Vancouver would be perhaps 700.
“The restoration companies all were planning on using these large trucks. The large trucks
wouldn’t be quite as efficient as they wanted because they’re expensive to drive so they aren’t
going to drive one way or the other until they have a full load. Plus, they have the costs of driving,
then they have the wait on the other end. These people with their trucking could not have
provided the people with the service they told them they were going to be getting.”
Working on the vast majority of restoration work was a lot to take on for the fledgling business.
The Pinkney’s plant is located in a building that houses their financial and tax businesses. They
first decided to give the drycleaning industry a try when they realized there was a local need for it.
“We thought that our area was not well-serviced at all in terms of drycleaning and many people
such as myself had their drycleaning done in Edmonton, which is 270 miles away, whereas the
people in Las Vegas would tell me there’s just about a drycleaning shop on every corner,” Wayne
noted. “Our city is sort of divided in half by a river and the competition was on the other side of
the river and there was no drycleaner whatsoever on our side.”
The financial and tax businesses take up most of the office space in the building, which meant
there was little room for drycleaning production. The Pinkneys hired Lenny Caron of Service
Dryclean Builders out of Florida to find a way to make everything fit in just over a thousand square
feet.
“In that 1,020 square feet we squeezed in two GreenEarth drycleaning machines, two pressing
stations, a single buck shirt unit, a hot head laundry legger, a hothead mushroom collar cuff, a
Milnor washer and a big dryer,” Caron explained. “We had to put in the basement there a boiler
and their air compressor.”
The setup worked well, but when demand increased by thousands and thousands of garments
after the Fort McMurray fire, more equipment was needed. Caron flew out and pulled the lesser-
used laundry hot head and laundry mushroom to make room for other machinery.
“We put in a new Continental Girbau 55-lb. soft mount and a double stack dryer upstairs along
with all of the washers and dryers they’ve got running in the basement running wash-n-fold and
things like that,” he added.
“The other thing we did is we bought a 12' x 40' trailer, air conditioned, which we were able to
wiggle into our parking lot in a rather efficient manner,” Wayne said. The move gave them another
500 square feet of storage room, though that still wasn’t enough. The trailer is currently so full of
clothes that have been cleaned that it’s difficult to even walk in it.
Fortunately, because the tax season ended right before the evacuation, many of the offices that
housed seasonal employees were now open to be utilized by plant manager Julation.
“I said, ‘Sorry, I’m going to need to take over all of these tables and rooms’,” she laughed. “I
even tease Ryan about it, saying, ‘Beware. Your office will be the next one.’”
Despite the heavy workload, EnviroClean has refused to compromise its finished level of quality.
At one point, they considered working around the clock with two 12-hour shifts, but Julation
insisted on being on hand at all times to inspect the level of the final product personally.
“One of the major restoration companies’ managers said to us, ‘You do a higher quality of work
here than what we will require’,” Wayne noted.
Many in the town are still waiting to return to their homes, which might not happen until
September or beyond. If that wasn’t frustrating enough, Fort McMurray was recently hit hard by
another natural disaster. Heavy rains caused many more houses to be flooded in their basements,
so now EnviroClean is working on restoring water-damaged clothing in addition to the smoke-
damaged items.
Clearly, the company will continue to be working long days for the foreseeable future, possibly
until early 2017. Fortunately for the Pinkneys, their employees have proved to be hard-working
and loyal.
“Our core people are so dedicated,” Wayne emphasized. “I do not mind all of the overtime they
are getting because we could bring in part-time people to do some of this stuff, but in the end our
most important work has to be done by these experienced people.
“I’m kind of glad to see they are making way, way more money than normally they would have
ever made for a few months. They also lost in the fire. I like to think it’s a way we are assisting
them in coming back — for their loyalty and for coming back immediately which was essential to
us. I don’t feel bad that they are getting checks triple or double what they normally would have
gotten.”

Restoring fire-torn lives piece by piece
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