The Long Road Home
On May 3, 2016, over 80,000 people were forced to flee Fort McMurray. Leaving our homes, possessions and lives at the mercy of a 100,000-hectare wildfire.
Now, over 2 months later, about 60 percent of us have started the long road home. For many of us that means being back in Fort McMurray, working towards finding a new type of normal. For all of us, that meant a drive back on Highway 63.
For those still waiting to make the drive, it’s hard to be prepared for what you come home to. It’s hard to know how to handle the emotions you feel on the road, and at home. Just know that you’re not alone.
Anna Noble, a proud resident of Fort McMurray, has been kind enough to share her experiences over the last couple months, with some advice for how to handle the long road home.
Can you describe what you love most about Fort McMurray? Why have you chosen to make it your home?
What I love most about Fort McMurray is the community spirit. I believe that because a large portion of us come from someplace else it brings us all together in a unique way. Many of our families live far away, so we end up creating a bond with the people we meet here, forming a sort of “Fort McMurray family.”
Can you describe your journey back to Fort McMurray after the voluntary re-entry started?
The journey back was nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. After over a month of being away from home, I was eager to check on how my place was, see what the town looked like for myself, and to be able to see familiar faces again.
Was anything memorable about the drive home?
One of my most prominent memories was driving slowly past this one man sitting on his tailgate on the side of the road playing his guitar. People were offering water to everyone. It was truly amazing. We were all in it together, and you could truly feel that and see it.
What did it feel like to go back there after all that had happened?
It was a mixture of feelings. It doesn’t really hit you what happened until you actually see the damaged areas. When I finally saw the areas that had been destroyed it was definitely a rush of emotions ranging from awe to sadness. Seeing how the fire completely circled the city, and how close it came to all areas, it really was amazing to think that we were so close to losing more of the city, and how incredible it is that it was saved.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to others who have yet to come back?
I guess all I can say is we are all in this together as a community, and there is so much support among us. It will take some time before we can say everything is back to “normal,” so come back prepared to deal with things day by day. Not everything is going to happen at once, so it’s best not to get too overwhelmed.
What piece of advice would you give to help people stay safe on their drive back?
Don’t rush, and take your time. If you know that you may become a little emotional on the drive, it is probably best to get someone else to drive if that is available to you. It is definitely an experience coming back for the first time, and an occasion to really be in the moment and take it all in. It’s okay to feel overcome with emotion, and will help with the healing process.
To read more about Anna’s experience, visit her blog at bit.ly/2azV671