The Return

(Feature image courtesy of TheStar)

I’m done my blogging concerning the wildfire, and now I guess it’s time to blog about the return. We have been in exile for just over 30 days now… Those of us at least who got out that first day of the evacuation (3 May 2016). And I know of course that the end is still not even close for many – especially those worst hit, whose homes were destroyed, and who are now not allowed to return due to the toxins. And these people are of course in my thoughts and prayers, even as I Praise the Lord for the best possible news and outcome for myself.

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So Joseph and I drove back in his rental truck… a massive Dodge 1500 with a HEMI engine, on Thursday, June 2nd. That was the second day we were allowed to go up. And I was originally planning to go up the very day I was allowed. But after some thought, and some pretty bad reports about how the traffic was going to be, I decided to hold off. As with just about everything, it seems, with this fire, the reports were overblown or much worse than the actual case. I followed the highway cameras throughout the day and most of the highways looked pretty empty throughout the day. So I was definitely kicking myself for not going up. But, it was a good thing because going up with Joseph meant I got to drive in that boat of a truck (SO COMFORTABLE!). And also, I was able to pick up my car from Anzac.

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“Whole lot of feels seeing that #WelcomeHome#FortMac sign. Then the burnt out Super 8… Then the Pringles that I forgot to bring with me when I evacuated.” – My Facebook post just after I got home and had the house inspected by my adjustor.

Joseph and I were trying to beat the clock. He had something to pick up still from Pier 1, so we could not leave Edmonton until about 10:30am. But we had to be in Fort Mac at 4pm because the insurance adjuster for our renter’s insurance (we are with the same company, TD Meloche Monex, which has been AWESOME throughout this whole time, and so we happened to have the same insurance adjuster… Which makes sense. Buddy probably works all the TD cases downtown). So we pretty much drove straight up without much stopping.

Driving into town was definitely surreal. I was prepared for the Fire Trucks on the King St. bridge (which also happens to be the same bridge I exited with the now infamous “walls of flame”). But nevertheless, I messed up my camera (I was trying to take a video with my iPhone, which I don’t normally do) so I couldn’t get a shot of it myself. So I stole the picture above from The Toronto Star. Its all pretty much the same image. I definitely choked up seeing that, along with the billboards of encouraging messages from the municipality for residents returning home.

Anyway, we pretty much made the trip in the standard 4:30 hours. And we made it home pretty much right at 4:00pm. The insurance adjuster was there already with his colleague, and they proceeded to walk around the house to see what was up. Amazingly, it’s the best news possible! I even knew once I walked in that it was good. The basement was cold, the air was fresh-ish. Outside smelled like a camp fire. But inside the smoke smell was definitely gone. The fridge was ok, and the only really bad smell was from the garbage. The adjuster swiped a baby wipe along the window sills to check for soot, and yeah definitely none. So pretty soon, we just talked about what we needed to do to get our receipts for our “evacuation expenses” turned in, and off they went.

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Once we had a chance to settle down and turn on our electronics, I was even more amazed. First of all, the clock on the stove was NOT BLINKING. Meaning… we DIDN’T LOSE POWER! That’s incredible because in the weeks before the fire, we had been losing power intermittently (apparently some crows were flying near a power line downtown) and here during a month-long evacuation because of a wildfire, the power never went out once in our house! Then, I checked out my computer, and sure enough it was still on (the TV goes to a black screen, but it was still on, and the computer was still on such that all I had to do was move the mouse and it came back on). It even had the web pages I was reading from right before I evacuated still loaded (although that, now that I think about it, is a sign of my panic, because I normally shut down my computer and unplug it when I leave the house for even a couple of days).

After all this, it was finally time to get some rest, and I actually ended up napping for a little while, after watching a couple of anime and j-drama episodes. Soon, Asa, our new Associate Pastor, and his wife Suz arrived. They will be living in the house’s second floor, and we talked and chilled for a bit, until they started moving their stuff in. I walked around a bit upstairs, and it was pretty much the same situation as us. No smoke smell. The few pieces of furniture they had up there was fine. So all was well, and we all pretty much just relaxed and turned in for the night.

The next day we spent some time doing various work around the church. We had meetings with Pastor Les, who also drove in around the same time as Joseph and I did. I was able to change the sign on our front lawn… Man that was hard work though. I will never take that sign, and the person who changes it (Phil Meagher), for granted ever again. Amazingly, we got our natural gas turned on super quickly. Apparently, one of our elders, Holden Dunnett, happened to see the ATCO gas people driving by Alberta Dr. and he was able to flag them down and asked them to turn on the church’s and our gas. Amazingly, they said they just had one call to do quickly and that they would come back…. AND THEY DID! So not even 24 hours from arriving, we even had our natural gas turned on (later on that night, we would even find out that the boil-water advisory was lifted for downtown).

Just a little after lunch, I went to the information centre to check in with the Red Cross, and I was even more amazed by how well organized things were. ATCO Gas was there giving food out. And I was able to get a case of water and cleaning supplied for the house. Man at this point, I didn’t even want to leave. I was getting tired from the work I had been doing (not so difficult, but it was out in the sun). But at this point, I really wanted a shower and we hadn’t heard about the boil water advisory being lifted yet. So I just finished up my work at the church, and around 4pm we left.

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We left the city the same way I had left it 30 days earlier. Through the King St. exit, which is where the fire trucks with the Canadian flag (with the Municipality and Alberta flags beside them) were set up. And man it was a huge difference, obviously. First of all, there were the firetrucks there, instead of at the fire. It seems like the firefighters and/or EMS people were manning this bridge round the clock and waving people returning in (these people were in turn honking their horns). It’s amazing to drive the same route through the bridge and beside the hill that 30 days earlier had been a wall of flames.

We went to Gregoire Lake Estates to check on Joseph’s car. Then we went to the Anzac church to pick mine up. That was another best-case-scenario. The only thing wrong really was a pretty distinct odour of smoke in the car (which I didn’t even notice until I was in the fresh air of Edmonton). But even that is actually good because then TD Insurance will do some treatment in it to get the smoke smell out AND DETAIL THE CAR TOO! So I just have to deal with the smell until I get it into the detailing shop in Fort Mac tomorrow.

So that’s about it for my return. Maybe I’ll blog a little bit more about it in the days ahead. But for now, again I Praise God that things are the best case scenario for me. And I continue to pray for the many families who were most affected by the fire.

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