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Will and Kate alter agenda to visit fire victims

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Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, talk to chefs preparing seafood on the beach at Dalvay By-The-Sea during their royal tour near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, July 4, 2011. UPI/Heinz Ruckemann | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/fdb6855fe4bfaecde2f00824cc39cfe1/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, talk to chefs preparing seafood on the beach at Dalvay By-The-Sea during their royal tour near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, July 4, 2011. UPI/Heinz Ruckemann | License Photo

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories, July 6 (UPI) -- Prince William and his wife Kate made "a real personal connection" Wednesday with the people of fire-ravaged Slave Lake, Alberta, the town's fire chief said.

Thousands of people turned out for a chance to get close to the duke and duchess of Cambridge, chanting "Will and Kate, Will and Kate" as the royal couple's motorcade arrived, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

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The newly married couple, who juggled their original itinerary to travel to the remote town, met privately with about 50 firefighters and families who lost their homes at Northern Lakes College's gymnasium, going from table to table to shake hands and converse with each group. William and Kate then greeted more people as they walked along a street before leaving for Calgary.

"It's easy to forget they're real people," Fire Chief Jamie Coutts said. "He's a search-and-rescue pilot, she sits at home and worries about him when he's on missions and that's a lot like what we did out on the front lines and what our families had to go through. It was a real personal connection with them.

"I'm happy for the people of Slave Lake. They got to have a happy day today, lots of smiles, and we haven't had a lot of those."

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Slave Lake Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee, who guided the couple on a tour of the burned town, called it an "amazing" experience.

"They were very concerned, very caring. Just wanted to reach out to the people of Slave Lake and we are just so grateful for them for taking the time out of their day off to come touch our community," Pillay-Kinnee said.

Yolande Klyne was thrilled she got to shake the prince's hand and give the duchess a bouquet.

"William just came over and shook my hand and I just told him we had lost our home and him being here meant an enormous deal to us and he said he was sorry that we'd lost our home," she said.

"Kate just thanked me for the flowers and said she was really enjoying being here.

"Yeah. It was amazing. Wow. They're incredible. They seemed very centered and very sincere."

A wildfire forced the evacuation of all 7,000 Slave Lake residents and destroyed 375 houses May 15.

After the tour, the royal couple's schedule had them spending personal "retreat" time before they travel to Calgary, Alberta, for the opening of the annual Calgary Stampede.

There was unconfirmed Canadian media speculation the couple might stay at the historic Banff Springs hotel in Banff, Alberta, which overlooks the turquoise Lake Louise at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

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Two days in Calgary will conclude the couple's nine-day visit to Canada and they will depart for Los Angeles Friday.

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