How’s Fort McMurray? Part Two

The exit, the heartache and the emotional return

By Dawn Booth, Managing Editor

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When I wrote an editorial back in January about a recent trip to Edmonton and how the economy was affecting our community, I mentioned the hope and beauty found in our Wood Buffalo region. And though much has changed since, I know it still rings true within all of us. Now, however, it’s magnified by the millions.

As I’m writing this, my one-year-and-a-half old daughter lays on my lap. She’s so young and unaware. She won’t remember the past month. She won’t remember the flames from the fire that we fled from and took many of our residents’ homes.

Right now, she naps. And when she wakes, she will continue running about, sharing laughter as she chases her two older brothers around in our home-away-from-home. Luckily, she won’t have the same night terrors my oldest five-year-old son has had since we left Fort McMurray on May 3.

It’s been three weeks and it feels like three days.

The process has been a long one for all of us. With our emotions set at an all-time high; we’ve shouted, we’ve cried… we’ve felt nothing at all. This is normal for what we’ve been through. And, no matter how we feel, it’s OK.

As I try and collect some perception, I believe this couldn’t have happened at a better time.

I write these words carefully, and with the utmost sincerity, as the series of events that have unfolded are still unsettled with us, and they may always be.

But perhaps our burden of the economy downfall was our blessing to the unforeseeable future to one of Canada’s largest wild fire threats. And in a world of ‘what ifs’, I think about a few timely factors that may have made our great escape possible.

What if our economy was booming and our population was doubled? What if our highway twinning wasn’t near its finale? 

What if our economy was booming and our population was doubled? What if our highway twinning wasn’t near its finale? The ‘what ifs’ may never be answered, but I believe it is good food-for-thought to help us cope with all that we’ve been through.

With heartfelt thanks and tremendous credit to our determined community leaders, dedicated first responders and tireless firefighters, we can’t forget another major factor – thousands of our residents are safety-trained professionals.

Maybe it was a miracle that over 90,000 of us had made the courageous exit. Maybe we can give credit to our dozens of Highway 63 and 881 angels who sadly left us throughout the years. It hurts my heart to write (because no parent deserves to lay their child to rest), but perhaps 15-year-old Emily Ryan and 19-year-old Aaron Hodgson were among them when they died on May 4 on Highway 881.

Maybe they – too – helped guide us to safety and into the sights of the angels on the ground – the ones dressed in uniforms who showed us the way out and the ones who stayed behind to fight the unstoppable Beast. The angels on the roadsides with open arms giving us gas, food and hope in humanity.

At the end of the day, and the days to come, we will have many unanswered questions… many which may never be answered, others that will soon reveal themselves. People will turn to a spiritual approach in understanding, and others to the science in the environmental factors.

For now, we have to be patient, understanding and stick together.

I’ve been a proud resident of Fort McMurray for almost nine years. I found my career, my husband and given birth to my three beautiful children here. While residing, the residents I’ve met and have built relationships with are of the most intelligent and selfless people I know. If there was anywhere in the world that the residents could come out of this disaster and come out on top, stronger and better – it’s us.

I know my daughter and our region’s young children won’t remember all of this. But for them, and for the children who will remember, I know this impact will give them the best future we could have ever imaged. Until then, may we forever be Canadian proud, Alberta united and Fort McMurray strong!

Dawn Booth’s husband Ryan with their children: Tessa, 1, Landon, 5, and Dawson, 4, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller on May 14. The Royal Tyrrell, along with all of Alberta’s provincially-owned and operated historic sites and museums, invite Fort McMurray residents to take some time with family and friends with free regular admission to any of the 17 facilities found in the province from now, until September 5. Photo by Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

Dawn Booth’s husband Ryan with their children: Tessa, 1, Landon, 5, and Dawson, 4, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller on May 14. The Royal Tyrrell, along with all of Alberta’s provincially-owned and operated historic sites and museums, invite Fort McMurray residents to take some time with family and friends with free regular admission to any of the 17 facilities found in the province from now, until September 5. Photo by Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly

-Connect Weekly-