‘Ottawa’ Former Ottawans Recount Fiery Flight From Fort Mac
When Jason Blair and his family woke up in their home Tuesday in Fort McMurray, they had no idea they would be leaving it behind just a few hours later.
It started off as a regular day. While his wife Danielle and their two-week-old daughter headed to a doctor’s appointment, Blair dropped his two-year-old son off at daycare and went downtown to the real estate office where he works.
“I was there for 15 minutes and the smoke wasn’t there, nothing was there,” he said. “And 15 minutes later, all you heard was, ‘Oh my god, look at that.’”
A wildfire had been burning south-west of Fort McMurray since Sunday, but a shift in wind direction on Tuesday pushed it towards the city. A mandatory evacuation notice was issued at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, forcing the city’s residents to flee in masses. An estimated 88,000 people have since been evacuated from the city, the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire had exceeded 10,000 hectares. Amazingly, no deaths or major injuries were reported.
After he spotted smoke from his office Tuesday, Blair, who moved to Fort McMurray from Ottawa ten years ago, decided it was time to head home and pack up. Shortly after, the voluntary evacuation notice was given.
“If you went to my house right now, it would look like it was robbed, (like) it was ransacked,” Blair said. “Imagine having to go home and feeling like you’ve got no time to pack. What do you pack? In that moment you’ve got to remember everything that is most sacred to you.”
For some reason, Blair said, he asked his wife to find their son’s first pair of shoes. That, along with a shoebox filled with pictures and other memories of his mother, who passed away ten years ago, were the most important items on his list of things to take.
“Your wife is bouncing up and down with a 14-day-old little girl and your two-year-old is looking at you (saying) what are we doing and where are we going? And you don’t have any answers and you want to promise that everything is going to be alright, (but) you don’t say it because you’re not sure if everything’s going to be alright.”
On the road, Blair and his family were forced to head north after the fire encroached on the highway down south.
“We were listening to a radio station and the radio station guy came on and he said, ‘We are now signing off, we will try and get back on but we are now signing off. Do not call the radio station, we are not going to be able to provide you with updates,’” Blair said.
“It all happened so fast.”
His family ended up in Fort McKay, 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. That’s when a good friend of Blair’s called and told him there was room for them at the Canadian Natural Resources oil site camp, just north of Fort McKay.
“He said they’ve got two planes here, one going to Edmonton and one going to Calgary, you guys can get on it,” said Blair.
After arriving at the camp, Blair and his family hopped on a plane and landed in Calgary at 2:30 a.m.
Blair said Fort McMurray is a very close-knit and hard working community.
“I think Canada will be extremely surprised at how fast we reunite and we put that city back together. You watch Fort McMurray bounce back. You’ll be amazed.”
Blair and his family are now staying at a friend’s place in Canmore, A.B., just west of Calgary. According to Blair, the last he heard, their home in the Timberlea neighbourhood was still standing.
“I’m sitting here watching my son play on a playground right now … and he’s going down the slide and he’s saying, ‘Daddy watch, daddy watch.’ It could have gone the other way,” Blair said. “We could still be up north, I could still be wondering where I’m going to get his next meal. But we’re safe.”