‘Parts of it still don’t feel real’

Car­bon­ear na­tive re­flects on Fort McMur­ray wild­fire one year later

The Compass - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

One year af­ter a mas­sive wild­fire raged through Fort McMur­ray, Alta., Kristen Green is still com­ing to terms with what hap­pened.

“It was sur­real,” the Car­bon­ear na­tive told The Com­pass when asked to de­scribe what it was like be­ing in the thick of it. “I think that’s the best word to de­scribe it. Parts of it still don’t feel real.”

Green, whose maiden name is Ryan, was out on her deck with a friend on May 1, 2016 when the fire started in the north end of Fort McMur­ray, not far from where she lived.

“We had to put our hands over our drinks be­cause there was ash rain­ing from the sky, but even then we never thought of evac­u­at­ing or thought that it would get as bad as it did.”

To­day, Green and her hus­band Kyle are stay­ing in Ed­mon­ton while she at­tends to some health is­sues. The fire did in­deed force the cou­ple to evac­u­ate, and their home was among the 2,400 build­ings de­stroyed in the blaze. Work got un­der­way ear­lier this year to re­build their home.

“I have so many mixed emo­tions when it comes to Fort McMur­ray and the fire,” said Green, who re­ceived a trans­fer to the com­mu­nity with the RCMP in 2011. “It is a very dif­fi­cult thing to deal with, the loss of our house, but I also wouldn’t wish this on any­one else. In a way I would rather it hap­pen to us than other peo­ple we know. The loss also comes with frus­tra­tion. Frus­tra­tion that our house isn’t re­built yet.”

Green has a lot of love for Fort McMur­ray. In re­cent years, it’s be­come a town where peo­ple are set­tling down and bring­ing their fam­i­lies to stay there.

“I had fam­ily in Fort McMur­ray and made some amaz­ing friends,” she said. “I had met so many peo­ple through work, roller derby, vol­un­teer­ing with my dog, and through dog train­ing that I couldn’t go any­where with­out run­ning into some­one I knew. You could see the change in peo­ple. They started car­ing about the city that they lived in.”

The wild­fire put a hold on all of that. Due to the im­por­tant role emer­gency re­spon­ders had in that set­ting, Green and her hus­band re­mained in Fort McMur­ray from the day of the evac­u­a­tion on May 3 through to May 6.

“The first day was the hard­est be­cause we weren’t to­gether and we didn’t know where our fam­ily or friends were. But we had a job to do and I think it was more im­por­tant for every­one in Fort McMur­ray to see us on the road help­ing them than for us to be with our fam­i­lies. That is our job.”

Los­ing the house

A call came in at 4:30 a.m. on May 5 from the alarm com­pany serv­ing their home. Kristen and Kyle were seated at a ta­ble with co-work­ers. They didn’t an­swer the call, as­sum­ing the news was not good. And, there was still work to do.

Once they evac­u­ated, Kristen and Kyle man­aged to stay at the home of a re­tired RCMP mem­ber who lived just out­side Ed­mon­ton and re­mained there for a month be­fore re­turn­ing to work in June. They stayed with a co-worker in Fort McMur­ray for that month be­fore find­ing a small apart­ment that could also ac­com­mo­date their dogs.

“When we re­turned for work it was al­most harder for me to go into one of the neigh­bour­hoods that I had been evac­u­at­ing rather than see­ing my own neigh­bour­hood,” Green said. “We walked a lot of the trails that we used to walk and to see the dev­as­ta­tion was over­whelm­ing. I still don’t think I’ve fully ac­cepted the fact that we lost our house.

At this time, Kristen and Kyle were en­gaged and due to get mar­ried in Oc­to­ber.

“We called our fam­i­lies af­ter the evac­u­a­tion and told them we weren’t sure how we were go­ing to get mar­ried and thought we would just elope or have a small cer­e­mony,” she said. “Our fam­i­lies said that the fire may have taken our house but it would not con­trol our life. They helped us have an amaz­ing wed­ding in St. John’s on Oct. 1. That day was about cel­e­brat­ing us and not about what we had lost.”

The oil econ­omy in Al­berta was al­ready reel­ing when the wild­fire hap­pened last spring. The prov­ince’s econ­omy is in the process of mov­ing out of a re­ces­sion, with growth ex­pected in 2017. That will be the first case of growth in Al­berta’s econ­omy in two years.

De­spite all that’s hap­pened, Green’s is op­ti­mistic about the prov­ince’s fu­ture. Fort McMur­ray’s eco­nomic out­look is of great im­por­tance to New­found­land and Labrador, with thou­sands trav­el­ling to Al­berta for work while their fam­i­lies re­main back home.

“I think Fort McMur­ray was be­com­ing some­thing great be­fore the fire and I think if any­thing the fire has brought that com­mu­nity closer to­gether,” Green said. “It will re­build and it will be im­por­tant for the econ­omy in New­found­land and Labrador and Al­berta again.”

“When we re­turned for work it was al­most harder for me to go into one of the neigh­bour­hoods that I had been evac­u­at­ing rather than see­ing my own neigh­bour­hood.” Kristen Green

SUB­MIT­TED

The scene that greeted Kristen Green one month af­ter last May’s wild­fire in Fort McMur­ray.

SUB­MIT­TED

Kristen Green, pic­tured kneel­ing on the right, with a few oth­ers pick­ing up the pieces in Fort McMur­ray.

SUB­MIT­TED

A plume of smoke rises in the air near a gas sta­tion in Fort McMur­ray.

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