Over the last week the entire layout of one community has drastically changed and over 80,000 people have been displaced feeling helpless in a country that is more used to helping refugees rather then being refugees.
In 2014 my mom announced her retirement and one of the first questions my dad asked was “How do you feel about retiring in Fort McMurray?” Her immediate response was “No” but my dad had an amazing job opportunity that would be less stressful on his ageing body. Although she was quite certain she wouldn’t like living in the town at the Center of Canada’s Oil Sands, my mom is a very supportive and devoted wife who followed my dad because she just wanted to be where he was.
It is now 2016 and my parents have grown to love Fort McMurray. They have built a life up North, built friendships, and made a home for themselves in a place they never thought they would be. They have been happy and comfortable in their new life.
At the end of February we lost my Maternal Grandfather, the last of my Grandparents, and while our family has been dealing with this loss my mom has been back in BC tirelessly handling his estate, preparing his house for sale and missing my father who had to be in AB working. Many times my mom has said to me “I just want to go home. I just want to be in my own bed. I just want to see my Brown Sugar!” Her heart has longed to be with her husband.
My dad was supposed to be meeting up with my mom in Cranbrook BC at the end of May and they were going to head over to Kamloops for my cousins Grad, take a trip down to the BC coast to spread my Grandfathers Ashes and then she was going to go home. She was talking about their plans almost daily.
On May 2, 2016 a large forest fire was headed towards Fort McMurray. The smoke filled the air and several residents were placed on Evacuation Alert and Voluntary Evacuation Order. Businesses in the area shut down but for most of the town it was business as usual. My dads office was on alert but they were still working.
May 3, 2016
The skies of Fort McMurray Cleared up and were a beautiful blue. Their air wasn’t so smokey and it seemed as though things were going to be OK. My dad headed to work after stopping to fill up his truck with gas and headed to his office. That afternoon the winds shifted and they sent everyone home as some areas were on mandatory evacuation while other areas were still on alert. Within minutes the fire had grown so much and became so out of control that the entire community was placed on evacuation order. The drive from his office to their home took 1.5 hours, a drive that normally takes 15mins. He loaded up what he could think of in his panic and left.
80,000 people were all trying to flee at once. Men, women, children and pets all trying to escape the fires that were already destroying homes and business. Over 100 people had to be evacuated from the Hospital. Some people were able to head south before the fire caused the highway to be closed. Most headed further North to an area that was nothing but Oil Camps! People felt trapped. My dad had stopped at an area not far from their house because he felt it was at that point safer then trying to deal with the traffic that was gridlocked in some areas with panicked drivers trying to get themselves and their families out. Gas in the town was quickly gone and many people were stuck, out of fuel, on the side of the highway. Vehicles were being abandoned some of them bursting into flames from falling fire debris.
My dad was one of the last people to leave their neighbourhood. He shared a video on Facebook that was almost eerily quiet. A neighbourhood with parks, schools, dogs, birds, and children was silent. The air was heavy with smoke and the sky was dark. By this time the rout south had been opened up again and my dad decided to head towards Edmonton. He described a devistating scene of fire, smoke, ashes, burning businesses and homes and burnt out remnants of abandoned vehicles. “I think this is what the apocalypse will look like” he said in an interview.
Edmonton in normally about a four or 5 hour drive from Fort McMurray. When my dad finally arrived at the hotel in Edmonton at about 2:30am, almost 10 hours after finally leaving Fort McMurray, he posted another video update on Facebook about what he saw and how tired he was.
May 4th, 2016
My dad headed into the head office of his company which was not far from the hotel. He had maybe an hour or 2 of sleep but he wanted to see what work he could do. The office set up space for their Fort McMurray staff to work but there was not much my dad could do and his boss told him that he should go be with his family.
May 5, 2016
My dad made the trip from Edmonton to be with family. He stopped for dinner in Calgary with my younger brother and his wife before joining my mom in Cranbrook.
With him he had a few things that he had grabbed before leaving Fort McMurray, pictures of my grandparents, a few things from his office, my moms almost 200 year old blanket that has been passed down through the family, and a small duffle bag with very little clothing. Like many other evacuees he had some strange items as well, like a furry hat from Sweden, my brothers first hockey stick, half a bottle of Newfie Screetch and a pair of handcuffs from his days as a BC Corrctions Officer. We have found a little humor in the situation, a whole group on Facebook of Evacuees and the strange items the grabed in the panic (snow pants and cheese slices, doggy dodo bags by somebody who has no dog, half a blender and a watermelon, and many more)has formed.
There has been such an overwhelming amount of support for the Evacuees from this amazing Country we live in. People from coast to coast are coming together and even supporters from other countries. So many lives are affected by the Acadian Oil sands. Many families have lost everything. The humble people of Canada feel bad when taking what’s being offered to them in help(clothing, gift cards, shelter) saying that somebody else might need it more. Fire fighters and others have brought flowers to the moms on Mother’s Day that have been in the evacuation centres. Plane and tuck loads of supplies have been donated to those in need. The people of Fort McMurray are greatful for all the love and support that has been pouring out for them and their community. The first responders will never know how greatful the community is for all they have done.
In all this my family is keeping their faith. Remembering our heavenly father will provide what my parents need. Even though they are feeling lost they don’t feel loss. Even in all the uncertainty, will my dad have place to return to work, will they have a home to go back to, even if they can go home, what state will their home be in, when will they even get to go home if they can, they are staying strong. My parents are safe. Although two young lives were lost in a roll over while fleeing (a 15 year old and a 19 year old). Almost 80,000 people made it out and are safe. We have heard of three Evacuee moms to be giving birth and 2 couples that had their weddings happen through gifts of everything from dresses and suits to rings, cakes and food!
Although they are feeling lost, They are smiling and together. They are 2 of the kindest and humblest people I know. They are so quick to help others but usually the last people to ask for help when they need it themselves. They are more concerned about friends and coworkers getting what they need. They are inspiration of what it means to have a servants heart. They are God Fearing and unconditional loving parents. I am glad they are mine!
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. Psalms 34:17
Please pray for the people of Fort McMurray AB as well as the people of Fort St John BC, also having evacuated over a thousand people due to fire in the last couple days. Please pray for the first responders, some of them have also lost their homes but continue to battle the fires to save homes of friends family and complete strangers. Please pray for the government of AB and Canada as they try to figure what will happen next while assessing the damage.
If you feel it in your heart to try and help you can make donations through the Candian Red Cross