During any type of environmental crisis, the very first consideration is people. Stationed at the MD Office and comprised of Councillors and municipal employees, the Emergency Operations Centre stood at the ready to alert residents of the approaching disaster. To those making phone calls or knocking on doors, there was a delicate balance at play: communicate the gravity and convey a sense of urgency, but remain calm and don't allow panic to take root.
Public response tends to vary when faced with something as unprecedented as a natural disaster, and on the weekend of May 14, communities within Lesser Slave River were no different. Some knew it was coming and had already begun to pack. Others doubted that a forest fire would reach their town unchecked. Many were oblivious to the event until they received a phone call from the MD (which by then had turned into the EOC). Before long, however, one only had to look to the sky to appreciate the magnitude of the situation.
"We saw a large black cloud and we thought 'this is something we've never seen before.' And then we saw fire dropping out of the sky."
Some communities in the paths of the looming fires were put on a two-hour evacuation notice, giving residents time to pack, prepare, steel themselves emotionally and wait. During this time frame, Sustainable Resource Development was working to establish a trigger point; a point at which the fires would become unmanageable and evacuation would become necessary. On Saturday, the first trigger point was reached, and at a second one at noon on Sunday. Each time, affected residents were forced to leave their homes and most of their belongings behind.
Facts & Figures
01 The Lesser Slave River wildfires caused one of the largest displacements of residents in Alberta's history.
02 Roughly 400 residents were evacuated from the MD of Lesser Slave River on the evening of May 14.
03 By noon on Sunday May 15, more than 1600 Lesser Slave residents were evacuated from the area.
04 In total, 732 families in the Lesser Slave River region lost their homes to the flames.
05 In the span of six days, the ARC rescued more than 300 animals left behind during the evacuation.
06 Collectively, the three mid-May wildfires consumed close to 22 thousand hectares, or the equivalent of 44 thousand football fields.
Voices from the Front Line