May 3 marks the one-year anniversary of the gigantic wildfire that devastated the Alberta town of Fort McMurray, a story that dominated headlines last summer.
While most left the city entirely to avoid the fire, many reporters stayed in the line of danger to get that story out.
Global National’s Alberta correspondent Reid Fiest was one of those reporters, vividly describing the scene in Fort McMurray from the front lines of the fire.
Fiest spoke to Jon McComb this morning about the experience, and how those evacuees have fared a year out from the life-changing fire.
Fiest says first hours of the evacuation were harrowing ones, with even their news crew scrambling to pick up and leave.
“We were evacuees ourselves that day.”
— Reid Fiest (@ReidFiest) May 3, 2016
Dash cam footage from Fort McMurray resident Michel Chamberland stood as perhaps the most vivid illustration the fire, showing evacuees lined up into the horizon as columns of flame scorched the forest on either side.
Fiest had Chamberland, whose home was one of those destroyed in the fire, retrace his drive out of the city.
He says it was a sobering experience.
“Looking back on it, he realizes how scary it was and how dangerous it was.”
In the weeks after the fire, the city of Fort McMurray faced criticism for possibly issuing the evacuation order too late.
“Officials from the community say it was just that the conditions changed so quickly,” Fiest says.
The fire did hit far quicker than residents or officials expected, thanks to a dangerous mix of rising heat and high winds.
The end result of that mix was the destruction of over 1,200 homes.
A review of the city’s handling of the fire is expected by the end of May, which Fiest says is necessary moving into the future.
“There is the risk for forest fires in other parts of Canada, so you want to make sure that we can learn something.”
— Reid Fiest (@ReidFiest) May 4, 2016
In the wake of the destruction, however, there is hope.
Official statistics have shown that building permits have been issued for more than half of the properties destroyed in the fire, with Fiest saying some areas are rebounding effectively.
“You’d really be surprised to know a year ago they had been just obliterated by the flames.”
And as the end of winter calls for ramped up construction, Fiest says many residents are hopeful about rebuilding efforts.
“Those that are committed and love that community and love that part of Canada, they’re back and they’re committed to getting their life back the way it was.”
Despite the hardship they faced just a short year ago, residents still have hope for the future.
“So many people moved to Fort McMurray to work, for their careers,” Fiest says. “But lots of people have said to me that this is actually home now.”
Written by Tristan Martin-Woodhouse