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.