A new home for Fort McMurray evacuees

Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Rebecca, left, and Jim Callin with their two pet parrots in their hotel room in High Prairie
Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Rebecca, left, and Jim Callin with their two pet parrots in their hotel room in High Prairie

Richard Froese

A couple found refuge in High Prairie after being evacuated from Fort McMurray as wildfires swept the region.

Jim and Rebecca Callin fled May 3 and relocated to the town near their lot at Shadow Creek Estates on Lesser Slave Lake when 88,000 residents were demanded to leave, the highest number in an Alberta disaster.

“It took us 27 hours to drive from Fort McMurray to Joussard,” says Jim, who lost his job just two weeks before after 10 years employed with Syncrude as a senior inspector.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper in a big “exodus”, he describes, as vehicles crawled in many directions.

But at least their house was saved from the ravaging flames, he says.

“If our house would have burnt down, it would have been devastating for us,” Jim says.

Although 2,400 home were destroyed, about 90 per cent of structures in the community remained intact.

Since they arrived in High Prairie, the Callins and their two pet parrots have made their home in the Days Inn, and grateful for the free accommodations provided by the owners.

“We are thankful for the support from the High Prairie area,” they say.

When the fire raged on May 3, they quickly packed a few belongings, a change of clothes, important documents, and hitched their boat and departed at 3 p.m.

“I saw the fire already blazing across the street and in the trees behind our property,” Rebecca says.
“When I first saw the fire, I was fearing for our house, but there was no wind at the time.”
“Then we realized we had to go,” says Jim, who was also a victim of the great Kelowna wildfires in 2003.

Directed first to head north about 130 kilometres, they soon were rerouted to travel south and were on the road much of the night in the dark with embers and ash flying all around them.

“We knew we had a place at the lake so we ran for it,” Jim says.
“We thought we would be back in about two days so we didn’t take much.”

News reports last week indicate that people will be allowed to return next week, although buildings will likely be uninhabitable without electricity for a long period and smoke damage.

As residents evacuated, Jim called the response chaotic and confusing since it was difficult for emergency personnel to know where to locate people as the fire moved unpredictably.

“You can’t prepare for this type of this in such short notice, you have to move with the people,” he says.

“I realized there was nothing we could do but leave, and we are safe,” Rebecca says.

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