While waiting for the horse at the Clearwater Horse Club (right behind my house) I saw smoke, and a lot of it. A guy told me that it was the same fire as the day before and not to worry. But I wasn't convinced. I called my mom to look out the window and she immediately knew something wasn't right as well.
With the help of my friend Maddie, we cleaned out my enclosed trailer, that has 16 permanent kennels and 6 plastic crates inside. By the time we were done that we got the voluntary evacuation notice for our subdivision, my dog yard is less then a km away and I knew I had to get the dogs out.
With the help of my dad and my neighbour we went to the dog yard to put the dog box on the truck. On our way back home to get the trailer the smoke had tripled in size, we hooked up and went back to the yard to begin loading up dogs with my brother Terrance, my cousin Jeremy, and a complete stranger (now a friend) Ryan.
We left the house, not knowing if it will be there in the morning, with 30 sled dogs, 4 house dogs, our cat and a raven (we found it with a broken wing and I refused to leave it behind). MacDonald island took us in, giving us a field to park the dogs. I couldn't sleep, I just sat and watched my dogs being thankful I got them all out in record time.
For the first time in my life I thought I was going to die. I thought, this is it. I'm with my family and my dogs. Do I let them go, in hopes they can out run the fire? I called those closest to me, saying my goodbyes.
We had no choice but to go North, I felt trapped. Travelling in gridlock amongst the panic and others seeking safety, we finally arrived in Fort MacKay where Finning kindly took us in.
As we drove through Fort McMurray my heart sank. I became overwhelmed with emotions and then I just went numb. It was hard to see things in the dark and the smoke until you were right next to them. You'd see a building untouched and feel a little bit of hope until you see flames eating away at the building across the street. Some areas were fine, most were not. As we drove past my subdivision I felt a sense of relief seeing it still intact, yet at the same time guilty I still had a home as many others did not.
We drove until 4:30am where we pulled over for a 2 hour nap, let the dogs out, and got back on the road.
From Wandering River to grasslands traffic was almost at a stand still. For the most part I was either hanging out in the trailer making sure it wasn't too warm for the dogs or walking beside the dog box frequently checking on them as well.
We safely arrived in Edmonton at 8pm Wednesday night, over 24 hours of driving. I hadn't slept, ate or showered in days. I was in survival mode, still am actually.
There have been several people reaching out to help and I have never been so grateful in my life. The mushing community alone has been a great support group, a second family to say the least.
I didn't realized how much this has impacted me mentally until now. I still hear sirens. I smell smoke. I see dust blowing in the wind and immediately think fire. I drove to the store to get a tooth brush and a fire truck zoomed by and I immediately wanted to throw up. Every time I close my eyes I see fire. I see the flames that were 15 feet away from me and my dogs as a helicopter overhead dropped water on it. I randomly cry, even when I'm talking to someone about something unrelated to the fire. I take nothing for granted anymore. I call my friends to make sure they are ok and the sound of their voice makes the tears roll down my face. The worst part about all of it is the guilt. I feel guilty for feeling sad about what I've gone through when others have it worse, much worse.
I found out that my dog yard got hit. Overwhelmed with emotions I tried to look at the bright side - a fresh start. For now we will build a temporary yard for the dogs to call home until we can get back and rebuild.
I have always had a lot of respect for emergency personal, I have a lot more now.
I also wanted to say a huge thank you to all those that have helped myself and my family since Sunday. To say I greatly appreciate it would be a severe understatement.
We will get through this. No one is alone, and we will work together to rebuild our amazing community. I have always been and always will be a proud to be born and raised in Fort McMurray, forever proud to be an Albertan.
#AlbertaStrong #ymmstrong #ymmfire