Frantic Phone Calls and Meet Up

Thoughts about the Alberta Wildfires, Part 6.

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Toronto right now, which probably sounds ridiculous given that I was in Vancouver just a couple of days ago. But this past Sunday, we had a really good staff meeting at work that really defined our roles and responsibilities during our “exile” in Edmonton. And that meeting really helped me to make decisions about whether or not I was going to come home, or basically what I was going to be doing during this “exile” period (as long as I am doing my work, of course). Anyway, that brought on a conversation with my mom about me coming to Toronto, or her and my cousin coming to Edmonton, etc. And then I got to looking at flights online, and realized that cheap flights out of Edmonton were ending this week (it seemed like it at the time… now it looks like Air Canada has extended it some more). So I scrambled to get a flight home. Sequence of events:

  • 5pm, NorthLife Church meeting in Edmonton
  • 7pm, NorthLife Supper/Staff Meeting
  • 10:30pm, Driving home/talking with mom
  • 11:30pm, Finished conversation with mom/started looking at flights
  • 12:00am, Decided to fly home, tried calling Toronto realized it’s 2am.
  • 12:15am, Purchased flight leaving at 7am, Facebooked mom and dad hoping they’ll see it in time to pick me up from the airport.
  • 5:15am, Left house for the airport (I had to make a couple of stops
  • 5:45am, Airport security check
  • 6:00am, Eating breakfast at Airport
  • 6:45am, Boarding Flight
  • 7:10am, Flight took off – I didn’t even notice, I was out cold
  • 11:30am/1:30pm, Landed in Toronto

So yeah, crazy little bit of time there. But now I’m in Toronto, meeting up with some wonderful friends and family, and of course spending time with baby Kara Elise. And that is doing wonders for the whole emotional healing deal.

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Note: Kara Elise is not crying, we are both yawning!

I left of my last post with driving through the wall of fire… And basically, after that, I started making my way out of town. There was not a lot of traffic going up the highway leading to the turnoff to Beacon Hill (one of the neighbourhoods that was destroyed). But there was a lot of smoke! I got a lot of questions about what I was feeling when I went through the smoke of fire… And my standard response to that was that I really wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to get out. But, for the smoke… that was what I was really afraid of. I am asthmatic… So I was really concerned about how long far the smoke was, especially since my 12-year-old car isn’t exactly as airtight as it should be.

During that drive up 63 through Beacon Hill and Gregoire, I was on the phone with Pastor Les/Ardith and Neil. I was talking to Pastor Les because I thought they were ahead of me, and I wanted to find out what the deal was with the smoke and if there was any highway closures. At this point, the northbound lanes of the 63 were completely empty, and some trucks were crossing the grass median and u-turning on it. And I was really concerned… I was wondering if I should u-turn there too, rather than getting caught at a barricade and being made to turn around. But traffic was still moving and no cars were going north (except the trucks that were u-turning), so I kept it going.

By this point, Pastor Les and Ardith had heard that 63 was closing at Beacon Hill, and that really scared me… But soon, I passed the Beacon Hill intersection, and I was on the phone with them, and I was like, it’s open turn around! I was trying hard to convince them to turn around… something we laugh at now, especially after they saw my video of the walls of fire… Again, this just goes to show what my attitude was towards that wall of fire, I was trying to convince Pastor Les to drive through it, not even considering the danger of it.

Pastor Les and Ardith were pretty set on going north, and so I just left it at urging them to go south if they have the chance, because I knew it was going to be crazy up there. And I got Neil on the phone. By this time, he was still actually trying to get out of Thickwood. At this point, I was through the downtown core, and it was moving pretty well. So I told him that I would just drive all the way to Edmonton and meet him there – originally, we were supposed to meet in Anzac, about 35km south-east of Fort McMurray. But it wouldn’t even be 5 minutes when I hit the main traffic just past the airport… At this point, they have all 4 lanes – both north and southbound – open to southbound traffic. And it was still bumper to bumper. So this is when I started to worry that I won’t be able to make it Edmonton. I was imagining that if it was like this for even 25% of Highway 63, I would likely run out of fuel on the way… Probably not even make it to Wandering River, the next town south – about 200km away.

When I came to this realization, I called Neil back. He was finally through the traffic on Thickwood, and was headed south on 63 (after defying a road block!). So I told him that I changed my mind, we need to meet at Anzac again. And so, I continued south through the bumper to bumper traffic on Highway 63 and made it to the 881 junction, to head east towards Anzac. The way there was actually quite clear, except for the gas station about 15km in that had a line up on the southbound lane to turn in. Otherwise, I was in Anzac – at our campus church there – by about 5pm, and Neil arrived about 30 minutes after I did. On my next post, we opened up the church to evacuees needing to use the washroom and get drinks, picking up Joseph, and driving overnight to Edmonton.

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