Out of the inferno

July 15, 2011

On May 15, my teens and I evacuated from Slave Lake. We raced ahead of a wildfire that burned through our small, northern town. Many other residents had left earlier. We passed some of them sitting on the side of the highway. They watched in amazement as they saw us drive by. And looking behind me, I could see a long line of other residents also fleeing the fire. Some of us went to Wabasca, some of us went to Westlock, some of us went to Athabasca, and some of us continued on to Edmonton.

My family went straight to my son’s home in Edmonton. After a three-hour drive, we pulled up in front of his apartment building. As we got out of the car, I looked up to see my son, Devon, walking towards me. His roommate and her boyfriend walked on either side of him. What a comforting sight – to see him walking quickly to my side, a worried, yet relieved, look upon his face.

It was a quiet reunion, hugs all around. Each of us asking the other, “Are you okay?” Our voices were low, the mood solemn. It was not the usual happy, excited greeting that normally occurs when we visit my son. We each grabbed something from the trunk. There was not much to carry in; we had fled with only the very basics. My two daughters and I each had a knapsack and a suitcase, while my youngest son had only one large knapsack. I had also brought four sleeping bags and a bag of filled water bottles.

Thinking back on that day, I ask myself, “Would I have done anything differently?” I have a car, and although it has a large trunk, it still is only a car. There is only so much room and my three teens and I fill the inside quite well. Since I had been in survival mode when we fled our home, I had chosen survival items to bring: sleeping bags in case we were stuck on the side of the road overnight, water bottles and some snacks to help tide us over. I even brought a bucket of water and a drink cooler filled with water. This water was not for drinking. I had planned to use it to keep cloths wet in case we needed something to cover our mouths. I even remembered the cloths and pins to keep them secured to our faces if required.

I don’t know if having a wet cloth over one’s face helps when being surrounded by smoke from a wildfire. It seemed logical to me at the time. My daughter, Tessa, had used a wet cloth to cover her mouth earlier in the day. With her asthma, she was more sensitive than the rest of us to the smoke filtering in through the cracks in the windows, doors and outlets. Taking her cue, I had ensured there were enough cloths and water to keep all of us breathing on our drive out of town.


Photo taken by Sharla Simpson from the parking lot where we went to after leaving our house, shortly before we left town.


Other than that, we each had a small amount of clothes, and our most special items. For me, that was a charm bracelet that I have had since I was a teen. Over the years, I have filled my charm bracelet with charms from the various places I have traveled through. When people ask me if I had saved any pictures I defend myself by saying that I had fled with the most important things of all: my children, my charm bracelet, and water. There was no room for pictures, and I wasn’t thinking of pictures while I was packing my bag prior to the evacuation. I’m envious of those who had the ability to think of such things, yet I know that I didn’t have room for any of those luxuries anyway.

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