07/31/2013 10:25 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Twig Found In Edmonton Tornado Wreckage Grows Into Memorial Tree

A twig found in the rubble of the 1987 Edmonton tornado has grown into a fruit tree thanks to the skilled hands of a man who planted it in memory of the 27 people who died.

Richard Heetun, one of the first rescuers, rushed to the Evergreen Trailer Park, the community that was hardest hit on that July afternoon, 26 years ago.

"It was very chaotic, very frightening, very scary,” he said.

“People were just running … everybody's trying to pitch in and you know, it was a tragedy."

In the midst of the confusion, Heeten saw something in the rubble.

“I just see this twig down there, just grab it for some reason,” he said.

Heetun, who worked in a greenhouse at the time, brought the twig home and planted it in his backyard.

Today, that twig has turned into a towering apple and pear tree, which thanks to his careful grafting and nurturing, now bears 27 varieties of fruit representing each victim.

"I cherish [it],” he said. “Very special because it reminds me of the lives that were lost there.

"There's not a single day that I don't think about it. Because it has brought me lots of memories there … it could have been me."

Horticulturalist Mohyuddin Mirza mentored Heetun and marvels at what the twig has turned into.

"I feel he is expressing himself through this tree by thinking and grafting, so a lot of memories that are attached to that,” Mirza said.

The tree also reminds Heetun of his own mortality.

"It just relates to you that you are here; within seconds you are basically gone. You know, life is so short. It’s so unpredictable."

People can see Heetun’s living memorial for themselves this weekend when he opens his backyard to the public.

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