UK

Prince William and Kate 'comfort' Canada fire survivors

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visiting a part of town devastated by a fire
Image caption The visit by the royal couple was kept secret until the last moment

Survivors of a wildfire which struck a Canadian town have been comforted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

William and Kate, who are touring North America, made an unscheduled stop to visit Slave Lake, Alberta, to see damage caused to the settlement.

More than a third of the town was burned by a wildfire on 15 May, although there were no deaths.

The royal couple had a private meeting with some of the families who were affected.

The pair spent an hour-and-a-half touring parts of the town affected by the fire.

This included a visit to Northern Lakes College, where they met emergency services personnel from the fire brigade, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the medical response team.

Wildfire damage forced the complete evacuation of Slave Lake's 7,000 residents - the largest displacement in the province's history.

Problems began in May as a forest fire took hold nine miles outside the town and strong winds blew embers into the air and on to homes and businesses.

'Overwhelming concern'

The royal couple flew into the town on a government Challenger jet.

A request to tour the devastated town came directly from the duke and duchess, according to Kevin MacLeod, Canadian secretary to the Queen.

However, it was kept secret until the last minute to ensure their presence would not disrupt any relief efforts.

Commenting on why the visit was not announced with the rest of the tour schedule, the spokesman said the couple's "overwhelming concern" was that they "did not want a public announcement early on for fear that it would somehow detract from those people who are now putting in place all the reconstruction efforts".

Dolly Horton, one of the survivors who lost all of her possessions in the fire, said everyone in the town was "touched" by the visit.

"It has given us something else to focus on apart from the grind of just getting through each day.

"They were incredibly thoughtful and interested in what we had to say. William promised to come back and see us when our homes are rebuilt.

"They are a truly lovely, gracious couple and we want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts," she said.

Calgary Stampede

William has made a point of visiting disaster-hit regions in the Commonwealth - notably Christchurch, New Zealand, which was hit by an earthquake in February, and bushfire-ravaged areas of Australia in January last year.

On Thursday, the royal couple are due to fly to Calgary - which is nicknamed Cowtown - where they will be presented with "10 gallon" hats and launch the Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo and festival.

They are expected to join Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper at the stampede exhibition centre for a reception.

Outside the building, William will throw a stove into a "chuck wagon", the traditional way to start one of the stampede's races.

During the day the royal couple will also visit a teaching hospital run under the auspices of the University of Calgary, where they will meet and get to treat "Stan", a cutting-edge learning tool for doctors and nurses.

The couple's travels around Canada continue until Friday when they will depart for the United States.