I'm sure every one of the thousands of Fort McMurray families has their own story of what happened to them during the evacuation, but here's one of the most thrilling stories of courage that I've seen so far:
If Cora Dion only needed transport for two horses as she fled Fort McMurray with her twin 15-year-old daughters, three dogs and a cat, the family’s escape from Alberta’s worst wildfire in years would have been fairly straightforward.Other families evacuated included Syrian refugees who had only arrived in Fort McMurray four months ago:
But she had four horses. And a trailer for two....
So they joined the vehicular torrent on Highway 63 — Dion, the dogs and the cat in her truck; two horses in the trailer; and Gwen and Carly riding the two remaining horses.
They didn’t even have time to saddle them both: Carly rode bareback; Gwen took charge of Addie, a six-year-old thoroughbred who, as a racehorse, is high-strung by nature.
Sometimes they took the shoulder, Dion driving slowly alongside. Where there was no shoulder, they were on the road, in traffic. ...
“Seriously, for my daughter to jump on a six-year-old thoroughbred and ride down the highway, that takes guts,” she said. ...
“We had Harleys driving right behind. Normally a Harley would cause great stress, especially in a really young horse like Addie.”
“My horse, she’s very much the leader of our little herd there, and you could tell she was very visibly trying to suppress her stress. She was pretending to be calm, but when we pulled her off she was drenched with sweat.” ...
As Dion and her girls waited for their next ride at the junction of highways 63 and 881, a stranger with a four-horse trailer pulled up beside them.
“I don’t know who you are, but load in — let’s get going,” she recalls him saying.
“He literally put my horses in his trailer and we were on the road in five minutes.”...
They’ve no idea when they’ll be able to go home or what will be left when they do. (So far, from what they hear, the house is still standing.)
Especially painful is the thought of the animals they left behind: a corn snake, a bearded dragon, and a ball python named Demetrius who probably won’t make it without carefully controlled heat and humidity.
Hunter, their 10-year-old cat, was nowhere to be found when they left. Dion hopes he can take care of himself for a little while.
“Honestly, now that I look back, it was pretty terrifying,” Dion says.
But at the time, she was in survival mode.
“I was just, OK, this is what we have to do.”
As members of Fahed Labek's family from war-torn Syria fled the inferno engulfing their adopted Alberta hometown, he recalls them staring back at the flames in Fort McMurray.The evacuation order happened so quickly that people couldn't fill up their tanks -- now hundreds of cars are abandoned on the highways, and the government has sent tanker trucks and set up mobile gas stations to allow owners to get their vehicles moving again.
"They said, 'OK. We left the fire and now we saw another fire. From fire to fire,' " said Labek, 43, who fled the approaching wildfire on Tuesday.
Labek lives in Fort McMurray with his wife and two children. He helped relocate his mother, sister, brother-in-law and their two children to his home in late February.
They are among about six families of Syrian refugees that resettled in the city in recent months....
Labek and his family left in a rush for oilsand workers' camps to the north of the city, expecting a 45-minute drive. Instead they drove for eight hours and when they arrived, apologetic aid workers told them no beds were available.
The family, including his 68-year-old mother who is in a wheelchair, set off again for Edmonton.
When their car broke down they were picked up by other evacuees in two different vehicles. Labek was awake for 42 hours before everyone reunited in Edmonton at about 6 a.m. Wednesday.
"Now we have another story. I have to find a place to stay, I have to find some food," Labek said Thursday.
"We don't have clothes for my kids, we don't have milk. For my kids, we don't even have diapers."
Here are before and after photos from The Weather Network:
Nobody has died so far, and two babies have been born during the evacuation.