I’ve been watching the situation with the Fort MacMurray wildfires since they started on May 1st. My attention was immediately drawn to the first reports appearing in the media because my next younger sister, Wendy, and her family live there. At that point, the fire was near the city but didn’t seem to be a threat.
Wendy are I are not in close contact. In fact, we don’t talk very often. That is where Facebook is a help in that I see her posting on there and know she’s around. Occasionally we exchange comments. So she’s not really completely out of sight or out of mind.
Within 24 hours I was seeing reports of the fire starting to move toward the city. I started to pay more attention to the conditions in the area. Heatwave, tinder dry, fast moving fire… the sort of conditions where anyone, even from afar would start to get nervous. Could only imagine what those in the area were thinking.
Having never been to Fort MacMurray, I don’t actually know where Wendy lives in relation to where the fire was. As the first reports of evacuations started I asked my youngest sister, Lynn, if she was in touch with Wendy. She was, the fire was in the south, Wendy is in the north. In a city of 80,000 people, that can be a safe distance, at least for a while. But, it’s fire, until it’s out, it is a reason to be concerned.
I checked my usual news sites several times as I went about my usual activities. At one point, Lynn posted a photo from Wendy of the smokey view from her backyard. I’d be getting real nervous in her shoes. Tuesday evening as I was working at my computer, my tablet flashed a news alert. All of Fort MacMurray was under a mandatory evacuation order as the out of control wildfire was advancing on the city.
My first instinct was to want to grab my phone and call Wendy. I wanted to know she was safe and sound. I restrained myself. She and her family were in enough of a stressful situation without having to answer my call. I can’t imagine what was going through their minds. The wall of uncertainty would seem huge at that point.
What to take? What to leave behind? What essentials are going to be needed? Will the rest of the household ever be seen again? Which way out of the city? To where? For how long?… the questions and concerns would seem endless. Yeah, she didn’t need me calling to ask more questions just to make me feel better. She had enough on her plate.
For the next several hours, all I could do was check media. I saw reports of damages in neighbourhoods in Fort MacMurray. I came across a map showing the neighbourhoods and where the fire was known to have hit. At that point, I still didn’t have a clear picture of where Wendy lived. So, I put her address into Mapquest and once I found that compared it to the map. The neighbourhood had lost two homes. Well, hopefully one of them wasn’t hers.
Unlike Wendy, I could go to bed in my own home. It wasn’t as comfy as usual not knowing where she was and if all was okay. When I woke around 4am she had just marked herself as safe on Facebook. No details of where she was, but at least I knew she was somewhere safe. I had a sense of relief.
The following morning I kept watching that safe notice as I got a notice each time someone responded to it. A friend of Wendy’s from the States inquired how she was and a former neighbour responded that Wendy and the family had travelled to a friend’s home to spend the night. From there I learned she was getting a hotel room in Edmonton. A week later, they are still there as near as I know. I’m grateful she’s not in an evacuation centre.
She has her home to return to. The question is when can she do so? What condition will the house be in? How much will life have changed by the time this is over? In some ways, it will never really be over, the experience will be one of those events indelible etched into our lives.
From what I’m seeing in the media, it will likely be at least two weeks before a plan for re-entry into the now empty city will be ready. Be strong Wendy, I may not be there in your ear, but I am keeping you in my thoughts even from this distance.