Preparing to Evacuate

Thoughts about the Alberta Wildfires, Part 4.

I’m in Vancouver now, having lunch at the Telus World of Science. I’m basically just killing time until my flight back to Edmonton tonight. I had an alright night on the train. I wasn’t expecting to sleep much anyway, but it was actually quite comfortable. Economy Class on the train is definitely not like Economy Class on the plane.

Anyway, I was reading some updates on the Alberta Wildfires yesterday, and I realized that I haven’t even really recounted my evacuation yet in this blog. I’ve done it for CBC a few times. But I think it’s important that I have a written record of it myself.

So I left off in Part 2  on May 3 with Neil and I videotaping the plumes of smoke coming from the direction of Abasand/Grayling. But we weren’t all that worried. Gregoire, Prairie Creek and the Trailer Park were evacuated the day before, but they were returned within the day (I think) and so in my mind, that plume of smoke was nothing to worry about. Neil dropped me back at the church and went home. But I wasn’t even in the church 5 minutes when Pastor Les popped in my office and told me he was shutting down the office because of the evacuation orders (mandatory and voluntary) in our surrounding neighbourhoods.

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Still I didn’t think much of it. I even had time to write an email back to the Christian Ministerial Association’s executive, and order a Mother’s Day present for my mom. But when I finally shut down the church and walked out of the building around 2pm or so, things had clearly deteriorated.

Around 2:00pm, Pastor Les texted me asking for the details of the hotel room I had booked for the pastors in Edmonton. We were supposed to leave for our Regional conference the day after (Wednesday, May 4), and he decided that instead of waiting for an evacuation order for downtown, he and his wife would head down a day early and just wait everything out. “Hmmm… Sounds like a good idea… 1 extra day in Edmonton!” I thought as I texted him back the hotel’s address.

With that, I called Neil up because we were supposed to head down to Edmonton together. He thought it was a good idea too. Although we really still weren’t too concerned about the fire. He was more concerned about whether or not his manager would let him skip his shift that night, given that MacIsland (where the library is, Neil’s 2nd job) is an evacuation centre. And my main concern was that I hadn’t found someone to cover for me yet for youth on Wednesday night. So I quickly made arrangements with one of my other youth leaders (I was originally going to have a face to face meeting with him, but we handled it on the phone), and I went on to begin packing JUST FOR THE CONFERENCE.

Yes, in my mind, I was just packing for 4 days… Tuesday to Friday. So I packed 5 pairs of underwear and 5 t-shirts (my typical short-trip list… number of days away + 1). I had the Christian Radio station on, and they were preaching calm in the middle of the chaos of evacuating the neighbourhoods closest to the fire. Josh was on the deck catching the plume of smoke on his Go Pro. And I was occasionally walking out there, too, to see what was going on. And man was the plume of smoke getting more and more ominous. I finally realized that things were really getting bad when I got called back to the church to respond to a burglary alarm. It wasn’t an actual burglary. I think it was just the caretaker leaving after I had set the alarm when I left 30 minutes earlier. But from the front door of the church, you can see Franklin Ave., the main North-South road downtown. And it was PACKED. Originally, Neil was supposed to pick me up from my house. I called him right away and changed our plans… I’m just going to drive my car all the way to Edmonton myself.

So with that, I started packing up my car. Remember what I said earlier? I packed 5 pairs of underwear and 5 t-shirts? I meant that LITERALLY. I didn’t pack any shorts or pants. Good thing I realized it, and I ran back in the house to grab some… No jeans, khakis or dress pants, mind you. Just my ball shorts, cargo shorts, and jogging pants. I also decided to pack my Martin Concert Ukulele. Not that I was worried about it burning in a fire or anything. I just decided if I was going to be in Edmonton 1 day early, I wanted something to do. At the last minute, I also decided to pack my new Steph Curry 2’s… but I forgot to pack any socks. Finally, I walked around the house with my phone videotaping my stuff for insurance purposes “just in case”. Even my demeanour and tone in the video betrays that I still didn’t really grasp the gravity of the situation. I really didn’t think this fire was as bad as it was. I was just taking precautions.

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I also took a video of myself and the house as I was leaving the drive way, just to keep my family up to date. It was only when I pulled into the main road about 3 minutes later that I finally saw with my own eyes how bad things really were…

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