Even as I watched the fire through the large windows of the library where I work fear filled my heart and mind. Even as I tried to reassure myself and others trepidation and worry were constant companions. Horror does not come close to describing my reaction as I watched as flames licked the tree tops on the hill a short distance away. Afterward, when we were in Anzac and thinking we were safe, my thoughts turned to my coworkers and regular patrons at the library. We had been scattered like leaves on a cool, windy fall day. Was everybody safe? Later as I watched the news the devastation and videos of people driving through the flames and vehicles surrounded on every side by fire I thought of the trauma people must be experiencing. We had left voluntarily, before the mandatory evacuation order had been issued. As we drove along the highway flames were already consuming the grass and brush, right up to the edge of the pavement. Above us on the tree-lined incline flames were already burning the tree tops. When we entered the wall of black smoke visibility was nil. Now it was not only the fear of fire and smoke we had to deal with, but also the very real possibility we could have an accident. Thinking of the trauma we experienced fleeing Fort Mac seemed trivial compared to what others experienced.
Many evacuees were sent north to temporary accommodations in hotels, motels, and camps north of the city, only to be evacuated a second time as the winds changed direction and the threat moved northward. These people had to drive through the smoke and flames a second time, making their way south to safety. I was with my husband, family members, and friends – many were separated from their loved ones, I could not imagine the level of anxiety they must be going through. I had been in constant touch with my brother’s family through text messaging and knew they were safe. My heart ached for all the people who could not reach their family members. Thoughts swirled as I thought of people I interacted with in my daily life: the friendly cashier at the grocery store, the pharmacist, bus drivers, and many others.
It has been three weeks since we left Fort Mac. We have learned that the provincial government has set a timeline for the return home of evacuees, at least for those who have homes to return to, but the horror of fleeing the wildfire has left me anxious and afraid – the wildfire is still burning albeit far from the city and approaching the province of Saskatchewan. Still, I am afraid to go home, as irrational as it may be, I am afraid the winds will change and turn the “beast” back to finish the destruction it started in Fort Mac. I will handle it. I have to, Fort Mac is where I live and work. It is home. It is where I have made new friends and began building a new life. As I once read, “feel the fear and do it anyway”. I will!