First Person Accounts

A message from Denny Garratt.

As a long-time resident, and as a past Council member and Reeve of Lesser Slave River, I have seen a great many things. But I have never before experienced anything to rival the fear, dread and utter devastation that the wildfires of spring 2011 brought to our region.

Ironically, one of my darkest hours as Reeve was also one of my proudest moments. I saw my fellow Councillors and municipal employees work side by side and do their utmost to provide for the safety and comfort of our residents. I saw communities from across the province open their arms to our evacuees and help us douse the flames. I was witness to the best the human spirit has to offer.

Our collective community has been through a great deal in recent months. We've endured wildfires and flooding, and our families and neighbours have faced heartbreaking hardship and staggering losses. Despite these blows, however, we have displayed resiliency, strength, and a positive outlook for which we have become known. We are indeed a "rugged and real" people who have not only weathered the storm, but continue to thrive in our families, our businesses and our communities at large.

As I look back, I have a heart full of gratitude and respect for the tireless efforts of everyone involved in our rescue. And as I look forward, I have no doubt in our ability to recover.


Accounts from Lesser Slave River Locals

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.

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.

Allan Winarski's Story

Chief Administrative Officer

Saturday afternoon I headed to the MD office after learning of the advance of the Grizzly Ridge Fire. Staff and Council started filtering in as the news spread. The worse conditions became, the more staff arrived. About 98 per cent of our people came to help – and stayed until the end. To a person, they were level-headed, efficient and vital to operations. People played interchangeable roles – anything they could do to help. Making arrangements to evacuate, rounding up gas and buses for people stuck in town, trying to confirm details, dealing with emergent issues. Any of the thousands of things that needed to be done.

Karen Dierker's Story

Wagner Resident

We would like to say thank you to MD staff for the excellent way they handled the evacuation of the May 15th fire that changed our community. On May 14th, we were put on a two hour evacuation notice, which we are so grateful for. Because of that notice, we were able to pack our fifth wheel with albums, computers, clothes and keepsakes just in case of an evacuation.

On May 15th, we were getting a little more concerned as we looked at the smoke to the south of our acreage. Many phone calls were coming from family and friends in Slave Lake wondering how it was going out here. We kept saying we were doing fine till we got the call from a nice lady from the MD saying that we had 15 minutes to get out, and it wasn't long after that that we had a MD truck at our driveway also telling us to evacuate. All of a sudden reality hit. We took one last look through our home, Bob got in the truck and fifth wheel, I drove our other vehicle and we left for Slave Lake not knowing if we would have a home to come back to.

When we arrived in Slave Lake we parked on the grass area across from Whitecap Recreation with friends and family. At approximately 7:00 p.m., we made the call to leave Slave Lake and go to Smith. We ended up getting a campsite at Mosquito Lake which is where we called home for the next 13 nights.

The community of Smith was absolutely amazing. They went above and beyond in what they did for all the people that evacuated there. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts. The MD came to the complex daily and updated everyone with maps of the burned areas, newspapers, question and answer periods. We know they were in the "hot seat" a lot of the time but they kept coming back and we thank you for that. I will always remember May 15th. We did not lose our home but our son, his wife and their two little boys from Slave Lake's 13th Street did. I will always be thankful to the MD for giving us the 2 hour evacuation notice. Our son and his family from Slave Lake never got that notice.

Darren Fulmore's Story

Lesser Slave River Councillor

I was informed Sunday, May 15th in the afternoon that an evacuation of the town Slave Lake and surrounding area was underway and that I should give an MD presence in Smith for the evacuees. I was not ready for what awaited me as I rolled into the Hamlet of Smith. There were vehicles everywhere. These people had left with only the gas in their tanks, as the service stations in Slave Lake could not operate without power. Smith is the first community going south that had fuel. Unfortunately, their power was out as well. There were a large number of vehicles that had made it into our community but did not have enough fuel to go on. Fortunately a group of volunteers rounded up a large generator and began wiring it into the service station to get people on their way.

Kelly Adelman's Story

Human Resources Coordinator

On May 14, my husband and I were outside doing some yard work when we saw the first bomber fly over. It was incredibly windy out and I remember him saying "that's not good". After a few more bombers flew over, I decided to run in and check Facebook. To my surprise, there were already pictures posted. A fire was burning in the hills southwest of town. Instinctively I phoned the office and was surprised that the Reeve, several Councillors and our Chief Administrative Officer were all there. I was told the fire was getting pretty big, but SRD felt confident they could gain control due to swirling winds.

Vanessa Houston's Story

Rescue Worker, Slave Lake Animal Rescue Committee

The morning after the fires had ravaged Slave Lake and area, ARC members went to work looking for displaced animals. With the help of our local peace officer and a few town employees, we were able to set up a temporary holding facility at the town maintenance building as the location had electricity and other necessary services. Pulling together supplies that ARC already had on hand, we were able to begin our efforts quickly.

Jodi Broadhead's Story

Widewater Resident

The communities in the MD of Lesser Slave Lake should take a moment to thank and recognize the small town heroes who fought the fires in our communities. I know I am personally thankful to come home to my house still standing. Some were not so lucky and this devastation would have been worse if these local heroes where not there!

Annette Kay's Story

Lesser Slave River Administrative Assistant

I was called late Saturday afternoon to come into the MD office to help with fire evacuation calls as there was a fire burning south of the Southshore area as well as one east of town in Mitsue. So began the fire adventure of 2011. As I drove towards town it was clear that the fire in Mitsue was of great concern.

Rick Mundt's Story

Utilities Manager

This is an event that I do not want to discuss in detail, however it has been requested for reasons I believe in. I will try to be as accurate with dates and times as possible, but more so the events themselves and the actions of Municipal staff, focusing mainly on the Utilities Department, as that is where my effort was mainly spent.

MD of Lesser Slave River

Just a few hours due north of Edmonton, Lesser Slave River is a truly unique place to live, work and play. From breathtaking expanses of boreal forest and unspoiled natural wonders to a thriving economy and genuine work/life balance, opportunities abound. Here you'll discover a place of rugged beauty. A place of real people. A place you'll never want to leave.

General Contact Info

 info (@) mdlsr.ca
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