SLAVE LAKE, Alberta (AP) — Prince William and Kate saw burned-out cars, blackened trees and the charred remains of homes in a surprise visit to a Canadian village heavily damaged by a wildfire.
The stop Wednesday in the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake, caught in an inferno in May, was an apparent effort to bring much-needed cheer to residents who face the daunting task of rebuilding.
The royal couple, on their first official overseas tour since their April wedding, landed at the community's airport and then boarded a bus with large windows for a tour of devastated neighborhoods.
The couple walked down a street, asked many questions, and even stopped to touch one demolished car. At one point, William reached down to examine the rubble, then studied the ash on his hands. They saw homes reduced to charred basement foundations.
Resident Shauna Fiddler said the royal visit would "hopefully lift the spirits of many people who have had their spirits quite dampened."
The royal couple then headed to a local college, where a crowd that had been gathering since early morning chanted "Will and Kate" and "We Love Slave Lake."
The two waved briefly before heading inside to meet about 50 residents, who sat in plastic chairs at folding tables in the gymnasium. The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge, as they are officially known, stopped at each table to shake hands and chat. William patted one woman's shoulder.
The pair also met privately for about 20 minutes with firefighters, police officers and emergency workers.
They emerged for a walkabout to the delight of about 3,000 onlookers.
The newlyweds were on the seventh day of their nine-day trip to Canada. After the Slave Lake visit, they departed for some private time at an undisclosed location before their next official stop in Calgary late Thursday. Wednesday originally was scheduled to be a day of rest.
Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said there was no doubt that Wednesday's visit left a lasting impression.
"Slave Lake needed that and I have to thank the royal couple for taking that time," she said.
More than 400 homes and businesses — about one-third of the town — were reduced to ash and debris when a wind-whipped forest fire swept through in May. The fire forced 7,000 people to flee in what was the largest evacuation in Alberta's history.
Kate was sporting casual attire for the visit — blue pants with a wide brown belt, a ruffled cream blouse, blue blazer and wedge slingback shoes. Will appeared in gray pants, blue shirt and navy jacket.
Spectators gathered were pressed four and five deep against the barricades, eager for a glimpse of the royal visitors.
Dwayne Verschoor, whose home was destroyed, said he couldn't believe the royals came to visit.
"It's a pretty big honor and a privilege even for them to think of us over here in a small little town," he said.
Also Wednesday, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon said he had been "deselected" from a polo match slated for the California leg of the royal couple's trip. Toby Mayer had previously sent out a press release and did several interviews with U.S. and international media saying he would be on standby at a Santa Barbara Polo Club match Sunday in case the duke had a spill.
Mayer said the club's general manager, Ariana Nobel, told him he'd been "deselected."
"Ariana said 'They want to control the media,'" Mayer said. "There's not supposed to be any interviews granted unless they tell you it's OK."
William and Kate conclude their Canadian tour at Alberta's Calgary Stampede on Friday before leaving for California.