Rising From The Ashes - Our Fort McMurray Wildfire Story

May 1st, 2016 – The last day of the Trade Show

Throughout the weekend, Alex and I had been at the Trade Show. We had met a lot of new potential customers and had a promising proposal that we were very excited about. We could not wait to get home and start working on all of our new orders from the weekend. Most of them were almost completed! We had it down to a science in our woodshop and we could get a sign finished in as little as 3 days. At the end of the show, we packed up our booth and headed to the vehicle. In the distance we could see 2 large pillars of smoke rising into the sky. Both looked very close to the city. Our fire fighters had stopped a fire on April 29th and April 30th, so we thought nothing of it at the time and carried on home. It turned out that there were 3 fires burning as we left the trade show. The fire on the North side near Parsons Creek went from out of control to under control with the valiant efforts of our fire fighting team. However, the fire on the south side continued to grow.

That evening we got to work on the remaining orders and drew the winner of our draw (see the video of the name of the winner on our Facebook page) for a free keychain holder. As I was working on the invoices that night, I was intently listening to the radio; specifically the voice of Mr. Pete Potipcoe. I listened with horror as the annoucement went from a voluntary evacuation to a mandatory evacuation for Centennial Park, Prairie Creek and Gregoire. As darkness crept over the city we were made aware that the fire fighting planes had to be grounded as it was too dangerous to fight the fire in the dark. It was also mentioned that Saprae Creek may be next to evacuate. Well that was it for any sleep I was going to get that night.

May 2nd, 2016 – An On-Edge Day

I packed an emergency bag and grabbed all of our important documents and had them in one place, easily accessible and ready to go if we needed to leave. I stayed awake all night listening to the radio, hoping and praying that the evacuation call would not come. And it didn’t. The call for Saprae Creek did not come. In fact, people were being allowed to return home with a warning to be ready to go again should there be a shift in the wind. As the sun rose, the planes could be heard flying heavily over our home. We were notified that the fire had grown but the wind was keeping it away from the city. The radio was on contstantly. As things seemed to be getting better, I slowly started living out of the suitcase I had packed the night before. I grabbed a shirt that would fit over my big pregnant belly and a pair of shorts to keep me cooler in the 30+ degrees celcius weather. Some of the things I had thrown into the bag were used throughout the day, but I kept most of it packed, just in case. This night of May 2nd, a few hours after the planes stopped flying overhead, I slept.

May 3rd, 2016 – The Beast

Beautiful blue skies, birds chirping, and not a lick of smoke in the sky. “They’ve done it. They have the fire under control!” I thought to myself. The radio continued to be broadcasting throughout our home. We were instructed to go on about our day as per usual. That things were looking very good but that the fate of the city would lie in the expected high winds and blistering heat of the afternoon.

My mom and I had an interview at the radio station for Sheila’s Story Time and for our second children’s book, The Goonchba. We made our way down to the station. Down town there was very little smoke in the sky. It was almost time for the interview when the wind changed. An emergency statement needed to be made. The fire had jumped the river, which is over a kilometer wide. We rescheduled the interview for a later date that week, knowing the wildfire information was much more important. Since mom and I were out of the house and after a very successful weekend at the trade show we had decided to go for lunch. As we walked out of the restaurant, we were faced with an entirely different scene from when we walked in.

We drove through down town and the skies had turned grey. Not a kind of grey you would see with a rain storm… but a kind of grey like we were on a battlefield. We heard the mandatory evacuation called for Abasand, Grayling Terrance and Part of Thickwood. I called a friend that lives in that area to offer them a place to stay with their pet. I called Alex to ask him to get the room ready for them and to let him know I had to come home right away. Several times I had thought to myslef that I needed to stop to fuel up the vehicle, but I fought that instinct so I could get home to my husband, 21 month old daughter, and my pets (3 cats and a dog). As mom and I drove past Centennial Park and Quarry Ridge, the flames were almost right next to the highway. We couldn’t believe it.