The Day The City Burned

Last year on May 3rd my city was evacuated. 88000 of us fled for our lives and the safety of our children. No one knew how bad it was going to be and we were all so accustomed to forest fires around our city that our risk tolerance had gotten way too high.

That could never happen to us.

That could never happen in the city.

I'm overreacting, I don't need to flee.

These are the mantras we told ourselves over and over until homes started burning and the Emergency Signal came blasting through our radios.

I was at work that day. A decent 1/2hours drive to get to my son's daycare center. I took a bus into work every day for 5 years. They ship us in on great big coach buses and ship us home at the end of the day. I work at a huge site so I always assumed I would be able to take a truck home if I needed to. That day, I was too late. Everyone had the same idea as I had and had grabbed up all the town trucks. I was stuck.

That day my sister Terry who lives 4.5hours away from me and our friend Heather who lives in my home town were having a Facebook group chat about our diets. 

They shared in every moment with me and I now have it documented for ever. Here is exactly what that first day was like for me.

 

Note: I've tried editing this and it's still too raw for me to keep re-reading. I'm sorry for any typos. I also left the next part un-edited to show you the truth of the conversation. there is some bad language, the situation warranted it at the time. 

 

Facebook Chat May 3rd Transcript:

5/3, 5:48am

Jessica

Ugh my scale hates me right now. Up nearly two pounds in two days

Luckily I know this is just bloat, got to wait it out

·      

5/3, 5:58am

Heather

I'm dealing with the same over here. And baby has decided to join team no sleep for his whole life and it's starting to wear on me. He was up 6 times last night, pretty average for him

·      

5/3, 6:13am

Heather

I saw that they were air dropping water there yesterday, any improvement on the fire situation?

·      

5/3, 6:55am

Jessica

Ahhh team no sleep, I know it well

I'm just looking for a fire update myself

It was raining ash yesterday

Fire update: we lucked out on winds and the fire hasn't reached the city

It's supposed to be 32 today and no rain in the for cast

·      

5/3, 7:17am

Terry-Lyn

Shitty

·      

5/3, 7:19am

Jessica

They got the fire out that was 1.5km from my house. So that feels good

·      

5/3, 7:22am

Terry-Lyn

That's good

·      

5/3, 7:56am

Heather

Yikes. So at what point do they have you leave home?

·      

5/3, 7:57am

Jessica

They evacuated a whole part of town yesterday for the other fire.

Saprae creek and Gregoir.

Where I live is very unlikely to ever be evacuated

·      

5/3, 7:58am

Terry-Lyn

Yeah they will firebreak the muskeg at the back of the hill

·      

5/3, 7:58am

Heather

Is it farther in from the fire?

·      

5/3, 7:58am

Terry-Lyn

It depends what's between the houses and fires and if they worry the fire will spread

Forest fires are fought with bulldozers and backhoes

We went through this last year, part of work burned down

·      

5/3, 8:00am

Heather

I don't get it. They dig around the fire?

·      

5/3, 8:00am

Terry-Lyn

Yep it's called a fire break

Nothing to burn so it moved

Moves

·      

5/3, 8:01am

Heather

So will it eventually just die out or just keep moving until there is enough rain?

·      

5/3, 8:01am

Terry-Lyn

Colorado farmer battles wildfires in tractor

 
 

A US farmer risks his life to stop a wildfire that broke out in a hayfield in Weld County, Colorado. Eric Howard uses his tractor and a set of discs to

5/3, 8:02am

Terry-Lyn

They do water bomb them too

·      

5/3, 8:02am

Jessica

They have the one blocked between two rivers and a firebreak

The problem is wind. If wind is blowing in the wrong directions the fire can jump pretty much anything

·      

5/3, 8:02am

Terry-Lyn

And use fire suppressants

Buts it's mostly trying to contain it in a circle and it burns out

·      

5/3, 8:02am

Jessica

The wind is going in the wrong direction today

·      

5/3, 8:02am

Terry-Lyn

Yep

·      

5/3, 8:05am

Heather

Omg I just watched that video. That moves fast.

·      

5/3, 8:05am

Terry-Lyn

Yeah that farmer is nuts

·      

5/3, 1:04pm

Terry-Lyn

Pizza AND ice cream at work today

I'm just sitting here eating lettuce

·      

5/3, 1:08pm

Heather

Day two of no sugar, dairy or gluten. Day one of massive headache that I think probably is directly related

·      

5/3, 1:08pm

Terry-Lyn

i bet

·      

5/3, 1:44pm

Jessica

The fire is crazy I'm freaking the fuck out

·      

5/3, 1:44pm

Terry-Lyn

how far is that from your house?

·      

5/3, 1:44pm

Jessica

Behind thick wood is on fire It jumped the Athabaska River

·      

5/3, 1:44pm

Terry-Lyn

shut up! that's 1km wide. 

·      

5/3, 1:45pm

Jessica

They evacuated Abasand and now parts of Thickwood

·      

5/3, 1:45pm

Heather

What part do you live in?

·      

5/3, 1:46pm

Jessica

I live beside Thickwood but luckily on the other sides

·      

5/3, 1:48pm

Heather

So now is it taking out houses?

·      

5/3, 1:49pm

Terry-Lyn

no they are evac'ing for saftey

it's not even that big yet, that is super scary

it's around 13k hectares right? the one here last year jumped from 12 - 21 overnight at one point

you guys stock up on food and water yet? if you loose power it could be out for a while

and gas, get some extra gas

·      

5/3, 1:50pm

Jessica

Everything is already bare

No food at the grocery stores

I'm super emotional about this for no reason

·      

5/3, 1:51pm

Terry-Lyn

i would keep the bathtub filled just in case

not no reason, it's Fucking scary

you guys are more than welcome to be here

·      

5/3, 1:52pm

Jessica

1.jpg

 

5/3, 1:52pm

Terry-Lyn

i would be freaking out too, not so much about the fire. they would get you out for sure.

about the infrastructure, food, power etc.

and you've only got two roads in/out, that makes it all the worse.

·      

5/3, 1:53pm

Jessica

I think having Tuck in town is getting to me

·      

5/3, 1:54pm

Terry-Lyn

i never even considered that, yeah i would freak out for sure

at least while i worked i knew Rob was in town

the air quality must be attrocious right now

·      

5/3, 1:55pm

Jessica

I don't even have a car here I literally couldn't get home

Well, I'd take one they wouldn't be able to stop me

·      

5/3, 1:55pm

Terry-Lyn

damn skippy you would

maybe drive in, you'll feel better

·      

5/3, 1:55pm

Jessica

There's a turnaround happening

Zero parking available

·      

5/3, 1:59pm

Jessica

It's friends posting from their homes

·      

5/3, 2:00pm

Terry-Lyn

the closest it got to my house was about 3kms as the crow (and fire) flies

·      

5/3, 2:00pm

Jessica

That's about 10minutes from my house

·      

5/3, 2:01pm

Terry-Lyn

the one 86 kms north of fort mac would around the sites wouldn't it?

·      

5/3, 2:02pm

Terry-Lyn

http://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/wildfire-in-fort-mcmurray-beyond-resources-wood-buffalo-officials-1.2885735.

 

Wildfire in Fort McMurray 'beyond resources', Wood Buffalo officials

Dozens of firefighters remained on the scene of an out-of-control wildfire burning near Fort McMurray – officials said the fire was believed to have more than doubled in size since Monday.

edmonton.ctvnews.ca

·      

5/3, 2:02pm

Terry-Lyn

I would go home if you've got time off you can take, just to feel safe

or at least call your day care and ask what the evac plan is, how they will get ahold of you, where you'll pick him up etc

·      

5/3, 2:04pm

Jessica

I hadn't heard of that one

They do have an evac plan. One of the reasons we chose them over the other place.

·      

5/3, 2:05pm

Terry-Lyn

that's good

·      

5/3, 2:13pm

Terry-Lyn

They just put a mandatory evaction on thickwood

·      

5/3, 2:13pm

Terry-Lyn

https://twitter.com/RMWoodBuffalo

 

RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo) | Twitter

Senaste Tweets från RMWB (@RMWoodBuffalo). Official account for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. This account is not monitored 24/7. Questions: call Pulse: 780-743-7000. Emergencies: call 9-1-1. Fort McMurray, Alberta

twitter.com

·              

5/3, 2:13pm

Heather

This is fucking crazy. Like you guys just talk about it like its normal. Get out of work, go get your baby and go to your sisters!

·      

5/3, 2:14pm

Terry-Lyn

Just talked to Jess, they just evacuated Tucker

 

5/3, 2:15pm

Jessica

What you can't see in this picture is my FUCKING HOUSE!!!!

·      

5/3, 2:15pm

Terry-Lyn

Come to my house

·      

5/3, 2:16pm

Jessica

Kevin is on his way to get Tuck

I wouldn't let him wait for me to walk up

 

5/3, 2:17pm

Heather

This is so scary

You guys are handling this really well

·      

5/3, 2:18pm

Jessica

I'm crying in my office with the door closed

I'm not handling this at all

·      

5/3, 2:18pm

Heather

Go to your baby

Is Kevin coming to get you?

·      

5/3, 2:23pm

Jessica

No, he's not. I told him to leave, better to get Tuck asap

·      

5/3, 2:23pm

Terry-Lyn

Come to my house I can stay at dans you'll have the whole place

Call me if you want

Are they getting you home?

·      

5/3, 2:24pm

Jessica

No gas in town

·      

5/3, 2:29pm

Terry-Lyn

I can come get you guy tonight if you don't want to stay in the gym

 

5/3, 2:31pm

Heather

What is happening

·      

5/3, 2:32pm

Terry-Lyn

Let me know, I can bring water and gas cans and food

Even if you'd just feel safer with supplies I can head toward you guys and bring it

Meet you somewhere or go all the way

·      

5/3, 2:32pm

Jessica

So we take greyhound busses to work

I can't go home until the bus takes me

I sent Kevin home with one of his coworker because he would have had to wait 15minutes for me to get there.

·      

5/3, 2:38pm

Jessica

We have a full tank of gas!!!!

But the highway out is blocked.

·      

5/3, 2:38pm

Terry-Lyn

i just read it's still open but expect delays

follow that twitter

that was 2 mins ago

·      

5/3, 2:39pm

Jessica

Blocked with people trying to evacuate their houses.

·      

5/3, 2:39pm

Terry-Lyn

yep

well i can head in, bet that side is pretty clear

so does he have Tuck?

·      

5/3, 2:40pm

Jessica

Not yet

·      

5/3, 2:41pm

Terry-Lyn

soon

·      

5/3, 2:42pm

Jessica

I'm very frazzled

·      

5/3, 2:44pm

Terry-Lyn

i bet

·      

5/3, 2:57pm

Terry-Lyn

I wonder what 881 is like

Will you guy be working tomorrow,

·      

5/3, 2:58pm

Jessica

We are trying to get out

Fire is right on 63 now

·      

5/3, 2:59pm

Terry-Lyn

Fuck

Whoa, where did you see that

·      

5/3, 3:00pm

Jessica

Kevin told me trailer park on 63 is on fire

·      

5/3, 3:01pm

Terry-Lyn

oh man

·      

5/3, 3:01pm

Jessica

Town is gridlocked

·      

5/3, 3:02pm

Terry-Lyn

well you guys have my house if you can get out, maybe pack and leave at night?

try to get extra gas and stuff

actually fuck that, a full tank of gas would get you far enough out of town that i could get you

·      

5/3, 3:04pm

Jessica

 

5/3, 3:04pm

Jessica

Can't get gas whole city is running out

·      

5/3, 3:05pm

Terry-Lyn

i saw that

when do you get to leave?

·      

5/3, 3:05pm

Jessica

430

·      

5/3, 3:05pm

Heather

Will you have to work tomorrow?

·      

5/3, 3:05pm

Jessica

No

·      

5/3, 3:06pm

Heather

Good

So you have to wait at work till 4:30 then the bus to town?

·      

5/3, 3:06pm

Jessica

Yea

Still trying to get home

·      

5/3, 3:12pm

Terry-Lyn

don't you have pumps at work? I'd be filling up jerry cans

i can use my own credit card to buy gas at work

·      

5/3, 3:14pm

Jessica

Got a ride home

·      

5/3, 3:15pm

Terry-Lyn

wonder if the airport is still running, it was this morning

·      

5/3, 3:17pm

Heather

I'm glad you found a ride

·      

5/3, 3:23pm

Jessica

Kevin still isn't home

·      

5/3, 3:23pm

Terry-Lyn

does he have Tuck yet?

·      

5/3, 3:24pm

Jessica

No

·      

5/3, 3:24pm

Heather

Where is Tuck

·      

5/3, 3:24pm

Jessica

Still at daycare

Closed the highway

·      

5/3, 3:27pm

Terry-Lyn

to get home?

·      

5/3, 3:27pm

Terry-Lyn

https://twitter.com/BreannaCTV/status/727608241316728833

 

BreannaKarstensSmith on Twitter

“Major gridlock at the main intersection. It feels like everyone in the city is trying to get out #ymm #ymmfire https://t.co/dwiC36VYDo”

twitter.com

 

·      

5/3, 3:27pm

Heather

Can you get to Tuck?

·      

5/3, 3:27pm

Jessica

No

·      

5/3, 3:28pm

Heather

Can Kevin?

·      

5/3, 3:28pm

Jessica

He's been on his way this whole time

·      

5/3, 3:28pm

Heather

Is he almost there?

·      

5/3, 3:29pm

Terry-Lyn

63 south or from site?

·      

5/3, 3:29pm

Jessica

South of town

·      

5/3, 3:29pm

Terry-Lyn

Let's make a list

You'll feel more in control

Start with the house, because that's where you'll be first

What do you have that could help

You have Tupperware and Rubbermaid bins that you can fill with water

What kind of food have you got?

Canned food Dry food Can opener Flashlights Blankets Batter charger

First aid kit

Kevin has done all those rescue courses, you've both got first aid

·      

5/3, 3:33pm

Heather

Diapers

·      

5/3, 3:33pm

Terry-Lyn

yep!

·      

5/3, 3:39pm

Terry-Lyn

the list only works if you make it jess tongue emoticon

i will hire a mother fucking helicopter to come get you if i have too

·      

5/3, 3:39pm

Jessica

Kevin's got Tucker

·      

5/3, 3:40pm

Heather

Yay!!!!

·      

5/3, 3:40pm

Terry-Lyn

yes!

·      

5/3, 3:41pm

Jessica

Fuck he didn't

Fuck fuck fuck

FUCK

·      

5/3, 3:42pm

Terry-Lyn

what?

what happened

·      

5/3, 3:42pm

Jessica

he hasn't grabbed him yet

·      

5/3, 3:42pm

Heather

Is he there though? Or close?

·      

5/3, 3:42pm

Jessica

I'm going to kill him

·      

5/3, 3:42pm

Terry-Lyn

i would too

https://twitter.com/briarstewart/status/727600648821178368

·      

5/3, 3:45pm

Jessica

It's jumped the highway south

·      

5/3, 3:47pm

Terry-Lyn

I'm going to cry

i mean i'm fine

let's get you safe

·      

5/3, 3:49pm

Jessica

I think we will be a actuated

·      

5/3, 3:49pm

Terry-Lyn

i think so too, so let's make a list of what you will do if you're evaced and can't go home to get any supplies

·      

5/3, 3:50pm

Heather

Do you live in an area you can't go home to on that bulletin?

·      

5/3, 3:50pm

Jessica

No

I live next to one I'm next

I'm at the bottom of confed

Kevin's got Tuck

·      

5/3, 3:51pm

Terry-Lyn

thank god

·      

5/3, 4:05pm

Heather

Oh thank god

·      

5/3, 4:07pm

Jessica

Home

·      

5/3, 4:07pm

Jessica

 

·      

5/3, 4:07pm

Terry-Lyn

love you!!!!!

·      

5/3, 4:08pm

Heather

That just made me weepy

·      

5/3, 4:08pm

Terry-Lyn

me too

·      

5/3, 4:08pm

Heather

Haven't put Milo down since this convo started

·      

5/3, 4:22pm

Jessica

We are evacuating now

·      

5/3, 4:24pm

Terry-Lyn

ok, where are you heading too?

·      

5/3, 4:25pm

Jessica

North

They are pretty much evacuating the whole town

Camps are filling up

·      

5/3, 4:29pm

Terry-Lyn

keep us updated, i will for real hire a plane or copter to come get you

·      

5/3, 4:47pm

Terry-Lyn

How's the smoke and drive?

·      

5/3, 4:48pm

Jessica

Just leaving house

Fucking crazy here Strait out of a movie

5/3, 4:50pm

Heather

The footage of the highway on the news shows that it's moving though, so that's good. It's slow but it's moving

·      

5/3, 4:52pm

Terry-Lyn

yep

·      

5/3, 4:53pm

Jessica

What's moving?

·      

5/3, 4:53pm

Heather

The traffic

Once in the road out

5/3, 5:15pm

Terry-Lyn

how is it?

·      

5/3, 5:16pm

Jessica

Bad reception

·      

5/3, 5:23pm

Jessica

Phone doesn't work most of the time

·      

5/3, 5:25pm

Terry-Lyn

keep us posted when you can

·      

5/3, 5:28pm

Jessica

We all got out that day. I slept in a work camp bed that had been shut down for a year. They opened it to give the thousands of people fleeing somewhere to stay. We left first thing the next morning and drove to my sister's home. 

The next 6 weeks of evacuation were their own trial. I often think of them as harder than the fleeing itself. I was alone most of the time in Edmonton where I knew practically no one and was living in a hotel with my 1.5year old Tucker. Kevin had to go back to work in Fort McMurray to try to get the plant back working. I'm not going to sugar coat it. It was hard.

But there were people who helped. So many helpers. So many people willing to go out of their way to relieve my stress.

I made this last year because I was so full of thanks that I needed to express it.
Still holds true this year. Thank you to the people who fought the beast, who brought gas and water to those in need. To the people that opened their homes to strangers.
To the two women that helped me carry my groceries all the way to my hotel room because I was having such a hard time trying to wrangle Tucker.

You are all heroes in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

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