Sara Brown, former Huntsville director of Public Works, was living in Yellowknife when wildfires forced her to leave.
She managed to get out two days before the evacuation deadline was called last Friday.
“I had read the writing on the wall that an order was coming and was concerned that the high winds forecasted could lead to the highway being closed, so I decided to get out of dodge as they say. I left about three hours before the evacuation order (Wed evening) and everyone had to be out by Friday noon,” said Brown.
“I didn’t see a Great Wall of fire, like some who evacuated from Fort Smith and Hay River did, but I certainly saw hot spots on the way out. Smelled lots of smoke but we have been experiencing that all summer so I am more surprised when I do not smell it,” explained Brown via Facebook messenger.
She headed away from the major centres as she said she knew they would be crowded. All of the communities she hit on the way down to Alberta from Yellowknife were crowded with people fleeing the fires and heeding evacuation advisories.
“I was lucky that my sister in BC booked me a room in High Level while I was driving with no cell. I kept going another day after that into the mountains to Hinton. As with any emergency, communications are always a challenge. We don’t have cell service between communities and our fiber line was taken out by a fire that wiped out the Town of Enterprise.”
Brown said communication with family and friends took place when possible and there was a heavy reliance on texting and Facebook.
“The major problem was that no news could be shared on Facebook because of Meta. Deeply disappointing that this ban was not lifted. We relied on going to the websites of our local sources of news, especially Cabin Radio. I have even been referring friends and family to them especially. Lots of good detail and reporting,” she said.
Fleeing isn’t easy but Brown was prepared as she had been packing her car a few weeks before the evacuation with things like documents, photos, and small family heirlooms.
“Couldn’t forget the dog stuff, bedding in case I had to sleep in the car, basic emergency supplies like a fire blanket and first aid kit, a few snacks (as it is 300 km to the first community), medication, and a bag of clothes. Had to leave as much room as possible for my two big dogs – Amigo and Marigold. You can replace stuff. I am still really worried for Yellowknife but happy we are away and safe,” said Brown.
The situation has been surreal, said Brown. “All of my close friends have talked about that moment when they had a little breakdown in tears once they were safe. You need to process all that has happened and all the stress. I can’t believe it but I left Huntsville 16 years ago. I hope everyone appreciates what a critical issue wildfire is especially in the boreal forest. Climate Change is leading to the drying of the forest and an increase in lightning, which are not a good combination. Especially when most of us in the North West Territories live in a town with one road or no road in or out. I have been hearing from friends from across Canada wondering what they can do to help – the biggest thing would be to donate to NWT United Way. They will get money to families that are struggling right now to eat and keep a roof over their heads. The hospitality in Alberta has been fantastic!” wrote Brown.
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