Earlier this month

Man recounts experience after evacuating Fort McMurray fires

Troy Dickson, along with 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray, left everything behind on May 3, as the city was engulfed in a raging wildfire.

Troy Dickson, along with 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray, left everything behind on May 3, as the city was engulfed in a raging wildfire. Dickson, along with his fiancée Kirsti, headed to Fernie after being offered help by local residents, Roxanne and Olivier Belzile.

“A couple of our best friends, Roxanne and Olivier Belzile had moved to Fernie roughly five years ago.  They were some of the first people to reach out and offer us a place to stay,” said Dickson. “We didn’t hesitate to take them up on their offer, and hey, hanging out in the mountains really helped our state of mind. It was incredible.”

According to Dickson, they had an intense evacuation experience, actually evacuating their home twice – once on May 1, and then again on May 3.

“We had a very bizarre experience, but I guess at the end of the day it worked out for the better. We were first evacuated from our neighbourhood on Sunday and then allowed back the next day. It was kind of like ‘Wow, that was a close one.’ Then one day later, on Tuesday the second evacuation came and that is when everything went south really fast. Luckily, we had most of our personal stuff still packed so we didn’t need a lot of time to pack the rest.”

Dickson said he was able to grab their mini dachshund Lightfoot and their cat Ducky. However, the scary part for Dickson was that he was separated from Kirsti and at the time of the evacuation, he could see large flames from his living room window.

“That is when I pulled out of our driveway and also when I was convinced our house would be lost very soon. Things got even worse when Kirsti called me back in tears saying that both sides of the highway were on fire and she was driving through it, bumper to bumper. My heart sank. I didn’t care about passports, paperwork, and those types of things. I only wanted to see Kirsti.”

Dickson connected with Kirsti on the side of the highway after they were both outside of city limits.

“We gave each other a big hug and felt a lot of relief. It was an amazing moment, all the while we thought our house was gone. Minutes later they closed the highway because a gas station had exploded. We were so close to being separated. Kirsti’s grandparents live in Lac La Biche so we were able to travel there for the night.”

As far as Dickson can tell, their house and property were not severely damaged by the wildfire. However, he is certain there will be some degree of damage.

“There are still thousands of hotspots in town that can flare up. Just last night another 20 or so homes were lost. We are still worried about other factors though, such as smoke damage or water/fire retardant damage from the water bombers,” he said. “We also haven’t had power for two-plus weeks so all of our fresh food is going to be a mess when we are finally able to return.”

As for when they can return home, the Alberta Government has set a tentative date for early June, if conditions remain favourable. But this does not mean life will return to how it was before the fire. There are multiple factors to care for, such as insurance and repairing damage.

Throughout it all, Dickson says he is impressed with the resilience of the people of Fort McMurray.

“From what I have seen in social media, for the most part, everyone seems to be making the best they can out of this awful situation,” said Dickson. “To me, this is a testament of the strength and positivity of our small, tight-knit community.  Fort McMurray is an amazing place to live. I know the media doesn’t always make it sound like that, but it really is. These people are as tough as they get. I’m certain we will rebound and be stronger than ever, this fire will constantly be a reminder of how we as a small, northern community can overcome adversity.”

Dickson wanted to send his appreciation to the people of Fernie who supported him and his fiancée through this time of uncertainty, including their friends Roxanne and Olivier Belzile. He is also appreciative to Andy Cohen of Fernie Alpine Resort and Mel Dies at the Fernie Golf and Country Club for a round of golf.

“They were kind enough to comp me a round of golf at the beautiful Fernie Golf and Country Club. During the four hours on that golf course I didn’t think about the fire one time. That is the only time that has happened during this difficult time,” he said. “Lastly, [thanks to] the entire city. It seemed every business we went into had a donation bin for Fort McMurray. The support was truly overwhelming.”