Thursday, May 12, 2016

We will rise from the ashes. Part One.

I've been wanting to write down this experience before I forget the details. So here we go. 

May 1st-
We were gone for the weekend to Kyla's gymnastics competition in Okotoks. We heard of the fire started outside the city. This time of year every year we get fires all around us. So it was pretty normal. As we drove into the city we saw the smoke hanging over Fort Mac. It was crazy. We heard it was getting close to the highway so we rushed to get home just incase they had to close it down. 

That evening Gregoire was evacuated. My heart sank for friends who lived up there. Praying that everything was just precautionary and it would be fine. 

May 2- We woke up to a normal day and so excited to set up all our new furniture and house stuff we bought while down south. It was like a dream come true for me! Kitchen table, bar stools, new bedding for kids, patio furniture etc. The morning was smoky but then cleared up in the afternoon. I think that's when the evacuation was called off. That evening we went on the deck and started setting up our new patio set. We got 2 chairs done then we were tired. Meh. 

It was also raining ashes that evening. 

May 3- Woke up to a clear day. Sounded like the fire was letting up and we were in the clear. My sister Britt and I decided to go downtown and get some summer clothes for the kids. Dustin, myself and Kyla were flying out again the Thursday (5th) to another competition so I had to get kids stuff while staying with Jill since it was supposed to be hot out. We went into the mall around 11am. Came out at 1230pm to this right above us. 

We stopped walking and just stared. So many people were just standing, stopped, looking at it. My sister said it was like the movie Dantes Peak. It was. Eerie and scary. We hugged and said lets get home. 

I got home and put Parks down for a nap. I went onto our top balcony and just watched this huge smoke cloud in the near distance. My neighbours were all outside too. I decided to start packing bags just incase. Luckily our bags were still half packed from the weekend and I was just finishing all the laundry. I was on the phone back and forth with Britt and Jill. I kept checking the smoke cloud and at one point saw the flames. 

I was slowly packing but read a second area was evacuated, then a third and the fire was wrapping around the city. Then I started packing faster and started thinking of important things to get. I was in more panic mode. I grabbed passports, our house papers, usb's, my camera etc. Dust said he was heading home now. They were letting anyone go that needed too, which was a lot of people. This was at about 2pm. I realized I didn't have gas. I only had about a quarter tank. Jill waiting almost an hour just to get down the road to extra foods and Britt was waiting as well to get to a different gas station. She was almost on empty. Parks was napping and the kids were still at school. Dust called and said go get gas. I woke Parks up and packed the van with what I had and drove down the road and picked up the girls who were walking home. Headed towards the gas station and I knew they would run out before I even got there. The line ups were huge and blocks away. I turned around and went to Jills. Luckily she had jerry cans in her garage. Enough to get us to Edmonton. It was amazing. 

A black leaf that fell on me while loading the van.

At around 3 we debated just leaving anyways. I told Britt to get over to us but she wasn't packed yet. I kept remembering things I forgot to pack like underwear and the hard drives and kids pillows so I would run back home and get them. I couldn't find the hard drives as we are still unpacking so much so I just grabbed my entire Mac desktop computer. Wrapped it in a towel and threw it in! Got back to Jills and Dust showed up. He said they closed the highway from sites right after he drove through. So crazy. He helped pack a little more and he remembered a few more things and ran home to get them.
Presley wasn't handling it very well. She was in tears and had anxiety. She was making herself sick with worry and it broke my heart. She said, "I don't want our house to burn that we just moved into." I just hugged her and cried and said, "I know hunny, I don't either. It's ok to be scared." 
It's so hard to be strong for your kids when you're barely keeping it together yourself. We kept getting news of areas being burnt and friends homes being taken out one by one. Not knowing who would be next. Jill and I hugged and cried and we decided to just go. We got in the vehicles and as we were driving away they announced the entire city was under mandatory evacuation. We got down a block and were in stopped traffic. After about 20 minutes I read the fire was supposed to hit Timberlea within 40 minutes. Right where we live and we hadn't moved. I started panicking a bit. Ok more than a bit. But I wanted to stay calm for the kids. We kept calling Britt and she wasn't moving either. She was up the hill a bit further back and running out of gas. She had a jerry can but didn't want to stop. She ended up getting out and someone helped her put a bit in. We started moving finally after about 30 minutes. Our plan was to go North to site which is where they told us to go because 63 south was now closed and blocked off. Travis and Jeff were both still stuck at site. Jill and Britt were just amazing and did this all on their own. 
We got half way down Confederation and they had the north route blocked off and were sending people south now. Britt was still stopped in traffic and running out of gas again. I told her we had to go south and to get the police officer directing traffic to help her put more gas in. She had to make a decision to go north or south since they opened both by the time she got there. She had to decide to stay with us and get out south or go north to her husband. She called Jeff and he said go south. Our phones weren't working very well so it was hard to be in touch with each other. 
As we drove traffic was flowing pretty good. It was quiet and calm and eerie. We were numb and just going through the motions. Doing what we needed to do and trusting what we were told to do. 
The fire was everywhere, burnt grass and trees and buildings all around us. It was so surreal. We just wanted to get out.


The kids were so calm the entire time. People started jumping over into the northbound lanes so all 4 lanes were heading south and we were flowing pretty good just trying to get out of there. Meanwhile Britt called and said she went south. We were really relieved. Jill got ahead of us a ways so we told them to pull over at Gregoire lake turn off which is about 20 minutes outside of the city. 
It took us an hour and a half to get out of the city. We all met up on the side of the highway along with hundreds of other cars lined up along the side of the road. Kilometres of vehicles. People who didn't have a clue what to do next, what their plans were and people who were just out of gas. 

We got a text saying Stephs boyfriend, Lee, had a house ready to take us in if we needed. We could barely text or call anyone so we told her we would take it. We decided to head there to Sherwood Park. Traffic was crazy. Cars lined up in Wandering River and Grassland everywhere. 

We had no service majority of the way so we couldn't tell family if we got out safe or not. We also couldn't keep in touch with each other much. Barely getting texts through here and there. When we were almost to Fort Saskatewan we finally had service and were able to get in touch with family. 
We arrived in Sherwood Park at 5am. It took us 11 hours to get there which is normally a 4 hour drive. We made it. Exhausted in every way and ready to rest our heads and see what the next day will bring. 

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