By Tyler Marr
Wildfire on your doorstep, twice in two years, in two different provinces.
That is the reality for Candace and Cal Johnson.
The couple evacuated Fort McMurray in 2016 when a massive wildfire, eventually dubbed “The Beast,” tore through the city and forced the evacuation of over 80,000 people for nearly a month. The couple’s home was not among the more than 2,500 buildings destroyed in the fire, though it did sustain minor damage.
Candace has experienced a devastating sense of déjà-vu this week as, just over two years since the Fort McMurray fire, she’s been forced to evacuate the couple’s home along Highway 3 between Crutwell and Holbein.
This time, however, she is alone, as her husband is working in Fort McMurray.
“I have been very stressed because from our deck, I could see, through the trees, flames in the distance and it is not a good feeling,” she told paNOW as she was still packing items into her truck as she made ready to leave.
Candace recalled the Fort McMurray evacuation in May 2016, never imagining she would be forced to leave her home behind again, let alone a province away.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” she said. “I am telling the people back in Fort Mac and sending them pictures of how close it is and they are telling me to get out of there, but you wait until you have to go.”
She said seeing the wall of smoke and flames and watching ash fall from the sky has brought back some of the turbulent memories of Fort McMurray. Candace said it was overwhelming to think about, recalling the wall-to-wall sea of people attempting to flee down a single highway to safety with walls of flames on either side.
“You don’t really think anything of it. Before Fort Mac, I never thought about it. But now you know how quickly a fire can spread,” she said. “It is not a good feeling for sure.”
Candace said she was frantically running around the house packing boxes with the same items she stored away before she left Fort McMurray; “Everything that is priceless to me.”
“Stuff that our grandson has made, stuff that the kids made for me, pictures, just trying to take all that stuff, because everything else is totally replaceable,” she said. “One of my biggest fears is that I leave something behind that can’t be replaced.”
Candace said she will be staying with her son who lives just outside of Prince Albert.
The evacuation order for Crutwell and homes North to Highway 3 was given for the second time in under 24 hours at around 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. It was lifted around 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Individuals in the small hamlet were advised to leave immediately via Highway 3 and go to the Shellbrook Senior Hall on the corner of Railway Ave. and Main St. in Shellbrook for further instructions and registration. Anyone requiring assistance during the evacuation was advised to call (306) 747-2178. Residents in Holbein and those living along and south of Highway 3 were told to remain on standby and prepare for an evacuation should an order be issued.
The Rally wildfire burning south of Holbein was measured at around 2,100 hectares Tuesday evening.
An evacuation order was issued for Crutwell Monday afternoon, but it was lifted roughly six hours later.