‘Ottawa’ Former Ottawa Resident Safely Evacuates Fort McMurray as Wildfire Rages on
It only took a couple of hours for the sky in Fort McMurray to shift from clear and blue to “raining ash,” which is how Sarah Anderson described the scene as she and her partner fled their home early Tuesday evening.
The former Ottawa resident moved to Alberta about nine months ago and had just settled into a newly purchased home in Parsons Creek with her partner, Tyler, on Monday.
The next day, the couple quickly gathered a few clothes, toothbrushes, some non-perishable food and mortgage documents as they fled their home under a mandatory evacuation order as a wildfire ripped through the oilsands town of 60,000.
“It was really eerie because we had completely blue, beautiful skies. If you looked out the front window you would never know anything is going on, but you look in the side view mirrors and it was just black,” she said when reached by phone Wednesday.
“It was cars bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye can see.”
At a Tuesday press conference, Premier Rachel Notley said it was largest fire-related evacuation in Alberta’s history.
Anderson, a Carleton University graduate and former Ottawa radio reporter, could see from her office window flames licking the sky over the neighbourhood of Beacon Hill as well as smoke and ash hovering over downtown.
About 70 per cent of the homes in that neighbourhood were wiped out by the wildfire as of Wednesday morning, according to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
For most of the late afternoon, Anderson was on-air at the Country 93.3 and Rock 97.9 stations where she works, telling listeners about the voluntary evacuations.
“Basically, at 5 o’clock, I was starting to fear for my safety,” she said.
About an hour later, the entire city of Fort McMurray was under a mandatory evacuation order, but by that time Anderson had already raced home to gather her things, packed the truck, and hit the road.
The only thing on her mind was getting out of town safely, because the drive out of downtown left her wondering if she would be able to get through the gridlock later.
“It was probably the scariest feeling I’ve ever had,” she said.
“I was driving a friend of mine home and I telling her about covering the (Oct. 22, 2014) shooting in Ottawa and knowing you’re standing on a street with an active shooter and that being like nothing compared the overwhelming sense of fear that I had yesterday.”
The Canadian Press
Thousands have arrived at evacuation centres after a mandatory order was issued in the Fort McMurray area.
She didn’t feel safe until she finally met up with Tyler and was in their truck, leaving everything behind, getting out of harm’s way. “That’s the only thing that matters. The rest is just stuff.”
She and her partner headed to the Athabasca Lodge about 50 kilometres north of Fort McMurray where they spent the night.
It’s usually used as a campsite for oilsands workers, but on Tuesday night many of them slept in their trucks and gave up their rooms to families looking for a place to stay, said Anderson.
On Wednesday morning, the couple tried to arrange a flight to Calgary, but was unsuccessful. They plan to spend another night at the lodge as the province figures out a way to deal with the unrelenting wildfire.
The fire isn’t expected to let up any time soon. In fact, officials fear it might get worse.
Anderson said firetrucks drove up from Calgary and Edmonton overnight to offer assistance.
“The smoke was so intense that the helicopters couldn’t get there,” she said.
The Canadian Press
The air was choked with smoke and the roads were choked with traffic as thousands fled the wildfires.
The municipality said Wednesday 88,000 people in and around Fort McMurray had been successfully evacuated and there were no reports of injuries or deaths related to the fire.
Other cities, including Ottawa, are offering help.
“The City of Ottawa has contacted Emergency Management Ontario to offer assistance as a result of the fires in Fort McMurray should they receive a request from Emergency Management Alberta,” said Anthony Di Monte, Acting General Manager, Emergency and Protective Services at the City of Ottawa, in an email to Metro.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he has asked the city manager to look into ways the city can help firefighting efforts in Fort McMurray.
He will likely reach out to the fire marshal offices in Alberta and Ontario before deciding whether it’s the best use of firefighting resources.
“If it makes sense for us to send crews out there, then I’m happy to authorize that. If it doesn’t because there’s literally no place for them to stay or it’s going to take too long to get a truck from here to there, then let’s see what else we can do to be helpful,” he said, citing fundraising campaigns or efforts to help rebuild the city.