The Infamous Walls of Fire

Thoughts about the Alberta Wildfires, Part 5.

I’m at the Vancouver Airport now, after spending all of 9 hours in Vancouver. Let’s see if I can get this post done before my plane back to Edmonton boards in 20 minutes. Just a quick recap of my trip, I took the VIA Train, “The Canadian” from Edmonton to Vancouver, which brought me up to Jasper, down through the rockies and inland BC. The trip was about 27 hours long, and was essentially what I needed for this whole solitude, finding emotional rest deal.

Last post, I finished off with leaving my house. According to the video I posted on Facebook, it was 2:30pm when I left my house. So that meant since lunch, I had about 2 hours of closing down the office, writing that final email to the Ministerial, buying a Mother’s Day gift for my mom, and packing up my car.

Anyway, when I left the house, I took my normal route to get to the highway – meaning, I didn’t go right to the main street running North-South downtown (Franklin Ave), but I went through the residential areas behind my place (Biggs, etc) on my way to Hospital St. The problem was, as soon as I got to Hospital, I knew that was a terrible idea, because as soon as I turned north, we were at a complete stop… Like, forced to stay stopped, no moving forward at all for 10 minutes stopped. Why? BECAUSE THEY WERE EVACUATING ABASAND! Argh, I want to smack myself even now for trying to take Hospital. I should have known better.

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I stayed on Hospital for maybe 10 minutes, and it was looking bad. So on Hospital, we were headed West towards the highway, while Abasand was being evacuated towards us (they are across the highway from Downtown), and so the police has all of us stopped, and were giving the right of way for the people leaving Abasand to come west towards us (using 3 lanes of the road… the last lane was being used by Emergency vehicles). This makes sense of course, because they have a priority – they are actually mandatory evacuated – while no evacuation order at all has come down for downtown yet, at that point. I stuck around as long as I could manage, but when it really became clear that they were going to have us stopped for a while still, I decided I would just turn around. So I jumped the curb (thankfully I was on the right lane), got on the grass, and turned around back toward the street I used to get on Hospital, and made my way down to Franklin and headed south.

Thankfully, Franklin was empty, but I was getting a little concerned that the next exit on to the highway south was also going to be closed. This exit was King St. Very soon, though, it became clear that while it wasn’t closed, it was sort of dangerous to take. I took two videos of myself going down King St. First, I took one of myself going west on King, approaching the bridge and the roundabout, because I realized I hadn’t taken any at all on Hospital. And man was it a sight… the hill was on fire.

I then got close to the roundabout, and I noticed that the fire was pretty much right on the other side of the highway, just past the exit I needed to use to get on the highway. This is when I took that second video, now infamously known as the “Oh my goodness” video, because it got featured on CBC. I basically got on the roundabout, even had time to comment on people going north instead of going south, made my way on the overpass, and on to the exit to highway 63… I could feel the heat even while I was still on the other side of the highway on the overpass. But I was determined. I was determined that I wanted to get out of Fort Mac. And I was determined that I was not going to head north to do it.

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So I drove through that wall of fire, videotaped myself doing it, and uploaded it to Facebook (no comment on what I was doing while I was uploading it). It wouldn’t even be an hour later when CBC called me wanting to do an interview as a result of that video. I drove through that fire just before 3pm. And it took me about an hour to get to Anzac (normally only about 20 minutes), where I met Neil.

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