Autumn 2017

Autumn 2017

Thursday, May 5, 2016

a city on fire

The news and social media are full of fiery images from northern Alberta as forest fires rage out of control and have engulfed entire neighbourhoods in the city of Fort McMurray and thousands of hectares of forest in northern Alberta.

Fort McMurray was 'built on oil' as the tar sands up north have been a rich source of bitumen that is processed into oil.  Affectionately called "Fort McMoney" it is a city where thousands from our four Atlantic provinces, and across Canada, and even the world, have been working and building lives for decades.  It is a community of people that have worked hard to build their homes and lives, hopes and dreams.  And it is burning down.

Our daughter moved there in 2006, met her husband to be, got married (here in NB) and had their first 2 children there.  They moved farther south to Calgary in 2013 leaving behind their many friends they made in the 8 years they lived and worked in 'the Fort'.  We have visited there many times and got to know the city and their friends. Many of our friends' kids went there to work as well and are still there.  It was a booming city until the recent downturn in the economy and oil industry.  And now this.

A Facebook photo.  The people in the car are leaving the downtown area and would turn left to go south to Highway 63.  To the right one would travel to other parts of the city and north to the work sites.  Can you imagine driving into this?

The forest fires started a few days ago and quickly escalated out of control due to the winds, hot temperatures in the high 20's Celsius and the tinder dry woods that cover the north.  The winter was mild with little snow which was in itself a foreboding of what was to come.  The fire jumped the one main highway, Route 63, and the Athabasca River.  

The subdivision that Jennifer and Matthew lived in, called Beacon Hill, is just on the edge of Fort McMurray off Route 63.  On Monday people in the city were told to evacuate.  How do you evacuate almost 80,000 people safely with only one highway that goes north and south through the city?  Amazingly they did.  People drove through walls of flames south of the city, with sparks and flaming debris falling all around them, to the community of Anzac about 2 hours south.  Some fled as far south as Edmonton, a 5 hour drive that took up to 10 hours due to the bumper to bumper traffic.  Thousands stopped at Anzac and parked, waiting.  Vehicles ran out of gas, food was scarce, there was not place to sleep.  Relief centres were set up and supplies trucked up from Edmonton.  

Jennifer and Matthew's home on moving out day in 2013.

Our friend came back from working up north to check on his house nearby.  This is the street and the arrow points to where Jennifer's house was.  :(  So sad.  This is heartbreaking to see.  So many wonderful memories.

On the other side of the city people at first had to escape north as Highway 63 was closed due to fire.  What's north of the city?  The large refining companies - Suncor, Syncrude, Shell etc. - and the camps where the workers live.  They have airstrips there too so they let go some of the non-essential workers and flew them out so the evacuees could have a place to stay (in the camps).  A day later WestJet Airlines, one of the commercial airlines in Canada, flew planes up to the sites and flew some evacuees out to Edmonton.  Imagine!  I heard a baby was born up there too.  Families are separated with some working up north while the spouses were at home, kids in daycare etc.  They had to figure out how to leave, where to go, what to take and just leave.....divided by the fire but alive.

Yesterday, May 4, the fire swept through the subdivision of Beacon Hill and destroyed nearly 80% of the homes and businesses.  The Super 8 Motel burned to the ground and a gas station on the corner blew up.  I know this area.  It is heartbreaking.  I have seen photos and video of Beacon Hill and it is unbelievable.  It looks like a war zone of mostly totally flattened homes, burned out vehicles, partly destroyed homes and unbelievably, some homes are untouched although full of smoke damage.  A young family from here are fortunate their house is still standing in the midst of the blackened neighbourhood.  What will they have to go 'home' to?  I don't know.      I saw a Canadian flag hanging on a pole, untouched, while everything around it was gone.  I saw a blackened steel garbage can right next to a yellow plastic one untouched by fire or smoke.  There was a water pipe in the rubble of a house with water flowing out of it.  Two other subdivisions in the city were also heavily damaged with many homes destroyed.  The downtown is safe so far along with the hospital, college, churches and schools.  I have heard that 1600 homes and buildings have been lost so far.  Miraculously no one has been injured or has died in the city.  However, sadly, a fiery vehicle crash farther south did claim 2 lives yesterday.

Beacon Hill in ruins.

Here (below) is a video of evacuees escaping the fire in the subdivision of Beacon Hill as the flames start to move in.  On the right is all woods which are on fire and the homes on the left are now all gone (as in the above photo).  {I don't know if the link will work.}  The video is from

Driving through the embers.

The news this morning is not good.  The Alberta government has declared a State of Emergency for the whole province.  The forest fires are blowing in a southerly direction now and three other communities are being evacuated including Anzac where many hundreds of the evacuees had fled to!  Now they are fleeing again farther south.  

Please pray for this whole situation - firstly, for the winds to stop and for much needed rain and cooler temperatures, for the hundreds of firefighters and planes battling the fires, the police forces, aid workers, etc., and especially for the people of Fort McMurray who have lost their homes and everything they owned.  They don't know when, if ever, they will be able to may be days, weeks or months.  They don't know if they have a house, a job, a future there anymore.  It is heartbreaking.  

My heart and prayers go out to everyone touched by this disaster.  I believe the city will be rebuilt one day, that the people will go home and clean up and start over, and that God will make a way through this storm and will heal and restore.  Today's status is that the fires are still growing and out of control.

I know this is a very long post.  Fort McMurray has been on my mind for several days and knowing the city and many wonderful friends that live there and call it home has brought this all very close to home for me.  Thanks for letting me ramble.  



  1. So devastating and sad. I can't imagine trying to drive out of there with fires on all sides of you. Praying right now for relief and containment.

  2. Oh dear ~ lots of healing energy and prayers coming your way ~

  3. It is so very sad and must be so awful for those people who live(d) there. I am so glad your family are safe, and how incredible a miracle that so many have been evacuated safely. Let us hope that the fires are soon out and that those affected can rebuild their lives. xx

  4. Oh, my word. That is so sad and very scary. I can't imagine the losses.

  5. We've been watching this story, too. Tim's nephew was working in the Fort and left the day before to do some schooling for his apprenticeship. It's devastating for so many people. The video worked well - really crazy footage.

  6. Thank-you for the up-date! Wow, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this horrific disaster!

  7. It is a horrendous situation, and it just seems to be getting worse.

  8. It's so sad and very scary...something we all think about. We are keeping everyone affected in our prayers. Thanks for sharing some of the more personal stories. Sweet hugs, Diane

  9. Just...just prayers. That is all have to offer.

  10. As you can imagine, it's been on my mind too. If William were still here he'd be one of the pilots there fighting it. Good post to describe the situation. So many ramifications for all those evacuees!

  11. This is such a devastating thing to be happening. For you to have such an attachment to the whole area must be so much worse. Hoping the situation changes very soon and all are safe.

  12. I have seen this on the news and praying for the people, this is sad.

  13. We were just listening to this on the news so I read your post to my husband. I can't imagine how hard this has been and the emotions involved. So glad no one has lost life thru the fire. Thanks for taking the time to tell the story.

  14. Devastating, tragic and very, very sad . . .
    Lives and homes and jobs and future left in sorrow . . .
    Thinking, caring, praying . . .
    Thank you Pamela for sending forth "the reality" . . .
    The television has been filled with the news . . . you made it even more real and personal.

  15. Thanks for sharing, Pam. It is really devastating, and so hard to imagine that a fire can take out whole cities. How do you ever rebuild? Tragic.

  16. Pamela,
    I thought of your connection to Fort Mac as soon as I heard the terrible news. We have been praying for all of those effected too. Our son has spent months working there and knows it well, but never actually lived there. It will be a long road back to home for the residence,I'm afraid. So much like Slave Lake, but on a larger scale.
    I hope you can have a good Mother's Day even though I know this is weighing heavy on your heart.

  17. Praying...

    Thank you for rambling...

    Is it not the ultimate irony to die in a fiery crash escaping a fire? Such heartbreak.

    Praying more...

  18. It is an absolutely heartbreaking situation, Pam, and no, I cannot even imagine driving into that. How terrifying it must be for anyone. Especially difficult when you know the area so well, but should touch the hearts of all who know about this. So many affected with nothing to come home to and no end in sight. Thank you for the post. Our news covers it to some degree, but celebrities are always more exciting to the news organizations.

  19. Such a sad story. But you told it so well, Pam! I thought of your connection...and wondered if you knew folks who lived there. Our thoughts and prayers continue for all whose lives are touched by this disaster!

  20. I've been following the story too and heard today that they expect the fire will double(!!) in size by tomorrow. I just can't imagine what the evacuees are feeling, but probably a lot are just in shock. Five minutes to leave your home and no hope of having anything when you return. The drive out must have been horrific for so many, and I'm very surprised that there were just the two killed in the car crash during evacuation. At least it seems the fire is moving away from the urban areas (north east), which is some relief. It will be a long time to rebuild, but all of them say they plan to return.

  21. Oh Pam, this is awful... and the latest news I found don't look good at all.
    Keeping the people - and the animals - there in my thoughts and prayers.

  22. I have been transfixed by this disaster too Pam,
    Praying unceasingly.
    I have family and friends who have lost homes and are
    in limbo. Some are able to come back home to Nova Scotia, which I am thankful for.
    Such incomprehensible devastation. But so many stories of
    sharing and kindness amidst the horror.

  23. This is truly heart breaking. The video was scary and brought the evacuation process very close. I have been thinking of the fire these past few days, and it reminds me of the big wildfire we had last fall in our neighboring county, just 30 miles from here. There really isn't much one can do, one just can't go there and put a fire of these huge dimensions out. I hope they will get rain and the wind dies down - quickly.

  24. Oh my goodness Pam... such tragedy, we cannot even comprehend - the upending of 80,000 people in a day or two - unbelievable. This says a lot to the character of these people who had to leave, and how no one has been hurt, just amazing! I believe with the kind of spirit that these folks have, this town will be rebuilt, and new growth will come forth out of the ashes. We will continue to pray that the Lord will help each and every soul who has had to evacuate and had their lives turned upside down through this tragedy to help them in the coming days ahead. And we continue to pray that the fire will cease to exist, that the firestorm will be abated, and halted in its tracks. It is such a terrible situation in so many ways. Do please keep us posted, as the news here in the States is probably not as informative as what you are getting. Thank you for this informative post, and we will most certainly continue to pray for God to intervene!!!!

  25. So very sad to see.
    It has been on the news a lot in the UK.

    My thoughts and prayers to you, and the family, and to all who will be affected by these terrible fires.

    All the best Jan

  26. Heartbreaking indeed. In 2011 Texas had major fires near me. Got as close as 8 miles away. The ash rained down on us one day. Lot's of homes, cattle, and national forest were lost. Got pretty scary. My prayers go out to those affected.


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