Three days ago my family and I, and the rest of our town were evacuated. Half of us sent out North to the site camps and half of us South, towards Edmonton, Lac La Biche, ect.
This is my story, how it felt, how I feel now, what I seen and what I know.
I woke up Tuesday morning and went on just as I did any other day, except today was the first day I had felt like a normal human being as I had just gotten over a head cold. To celebrate getting over a sickness and the sunshine I went in my backyard and layed in the sun. About a half an hour later the sky was black with smoke.
I jumped in the shower not thinking too much of it, I had been hearing on the radio about a wildfire and that the south part of town was under voluntary evacuation. “voluntary evacuation” didn’t sound too threatening to me, a nineteen year old carefree girl.
When I got out of the shower my mother yelled at me to come upstairs, she had just gotten home with groceries and my brothers (who were home from school 3 hours early) were standing in the kitchen. She explained that she received a phone call from our neighbour saying “get the f*ck out of Thickwood.” when she got out of the grocery store she realized why. The sky was now black and thick with smoke and Thickwood being much further North in town than the areas previously mentioned under voluntary evacuation was also under evacuation while the south areas were now under mandatory. After seeing the sky she grabbed my brothers from school and hauled ass home. We soon were very thankful she picked them up when she did because shortly after they got home the police closed the roads to get into Thickwood and the children were being transported out of Thickwood.
She proceeded to explain that we were to pack incase we too were to be evacuated, three days worth of clothes and baby books or any other precious items we didn’t want to leave behind. My father, just waking up as he was sleeping because he was on night shift laughed at my mother, not taking her seriously at all. But, when he stepped outside onto our driveway and seen this (picture below) his perspective completely changed and I was immediately sent to fuel up my car.
I went to a gas station in Dickensfield, about a 15-20 minute walk from my home, it took me well over an hour to get gas as the line ups were insane. By the time I got home my family was mostly packed and I had to run around and pack for myself.
I managed to pack everything for my cat Subie, I was able to save my corn snake Scar, and my baby books, a photo album, my journals (I can’t go anywhere without being able to write down my thoughts), my laptop and 3 days worth of clothes. Compared to a lot of evacuees from McMurray I think my family and I were lucky to get out with what we did, as a family we were able to get all of our important documents, passports, birth certificates, ect. our three vehicles, mine, my mother’s, and my father’s truck, the only one that was left was my father’s Harley.
We left as a family, my father alone in his truck, my mother and youngest brother in her car and myself, my middle brother, and my pets in my car. At this point in time Thickwood already well on its way to being evacuated, Woodbufallo also in the process and now Dickensfield as I mentioned before is very close to my home that was in Timberlea was also under evacuation.
Prior to leaving we had heard on the radio that the highway going South was closed due to the fire, and that all evacuees would be sent North towards the sites and the camps were taking in as many people as they could. When we reached the bottom of Confederation Drive (the main drag going through Timberlea) cops directed us South. I called my father in a panic thinking we were being sent directly into the fire but he reassured me that we were just being turned around and would be safe and headed North. Not the case. We continued South and drove through smoke, and flames roared on either side of us. We passed burning houses, abandoned cars, sat in traffic for hours, and watched as cars raced passed us in the opposite lane. It was like an apocalyptic movie, “The Purge” for example. No one cared about the rules anymore, everyone was in survival mode.
Once we got out of town and away from the smoke we stopped into my uncles lot on 881, in normal traffic I would estimate that it would take maybe thirty minutes to get there, but in our case it took four or five hours. We arrived around nine pm and heard on the radio around eight pm that the entire city was officially under mandatory evacuation. According to the census thats over eighty thousand people.
We stayed over night there and the rest of my family made their way there as well. By five am there was about thirty of us in the lot, huddled together around a radio shaking our heads, crying and holding each other while listening to the devastating news.
The next day four of my cousins headed to Anzac hoping to get food as no one was really prepared. Around one pm they called saying they heard the scales on 881 (about 10 Kilometres from where we were) was being evacuated. The fire was now heading South.
So we packed up once again and by two thirty a row of about fifteen or so vehicles were headed south towards Edmonton.
On the way we passed countless people with signs “Free Gas, Food, Water for McMurray Evacuees.” Gas stations gave away food, people stopped and handed evacuees money. My faith in humanity has been completely restored.
Currently, my family and I are staying in Edmonton with our neighbours, the rest of us are scattered about Southern Alberta, but everyone is safe. My boyfriend and I were separated they day of the evacuation, he was sent North. To my knowledge everyone that was sent North that day has been moved South by this point. My family and I know a great deal of people who have lost their homes and or pets. Having been born and raised in McMurray I’ve come to know a lot of people and I feel horrible for those who made it out with less than myself.
I am grateful to have made it out with what we did. My family and I are a lot better off than most, we have a house to stay in, we have some money to our names, we made it out with our pets and a fair amount of belongings, and today we learned our house still stands. There is still no word on how long until we are able to go back to our homes. All we know is that when we are able to, things will never be the same.
My father is being sent back to work soon as he is employed with one of the sites. My parents want to send my brothers to Newfoundland with family to finish school, I’m not sure what I will be doing myself.
I’m terrified to go home, to see the devastation and face all that we as a community have lost. But, I believe that the media is showing only the bad and from speaking to people still in McMurray fighting the fire, a lot more is still standing than how the media makes it sound. I know McMurray as a community has so much support from the rest of Alberta, and I am so thankful for all those who have donated, and volunteered at the shelters.
To any fellow McMurryites, I wish you and your family the best and I will see you soon when it comes time to rebuild the place we’ve all called home.