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How It All Unfolded: The Story

When you evacuate almost 90,000 people from a community, there’s a story behind each of them.

We have gathered a timeline of events, walking through the days before and after the evacuation. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Greg Halinda has shared a photo essay to tell the story when there are no words left. There are stories from those who stepped up when we needed them the most, and stories from those who had to flee. We have stories from heroes, and stories thanking them.

These are the stories that make #FortMcMurrayStrong


Evacuation: A Photo Essay

Greg Halinda & Kitty Cochrane
BY Greg Halinda & Kitty Cochrane
(3 votes)

The afternoon of Sunday, May 1st, we saw an alarming smoke plume to the West of our downtown house. At 9 p.m. we filled up our cars with gas and gathered items, just in case.

Monday, May 2 I scouted around the southern neighbourhoods taking photos. All I could see were towering white clouds that looked like rain clouds.

The next day, on Tuesday, May 3, the skies were fairly clear and blue. At about 1 p.m. I was up in the Thickwood area when the evacuation orders began. All along the western edge of the city I saw plumes of red, yellow and gray smoke towering into the sky, seeming to come in from all different directions. It looked like the clouds were made of fire.

At 2:30 I headed for our house downtown to pick up our things. Traffic on Thickwood Boulevard and at gas stations was backed up. My wife is a teacher at the same school as my daughter and they were waiting until all students were picked up.

With my stomach in a knot, I drove downtown. The exits to my house were jammed with cars. Trees all along the road were on fire. I had no choice but to drive to Anzac and anxiously wait for my wife and daughter.

At about 4 p.m. my wife and daughter inched out of Dickinsfield and down Highway 63. They jumped the meridian on Confederation Drive when flames tore through Abraham Landing. After six hours of bumper to bumper traffic, they met up with me at the evacuation centre in Anzac. There, we spent a sleepless night with 2,500 other evacuees. All through the night and next morning volunteers supplied cots, food, clothes and medicine.

The world meets in Wood Buffalo – and also in the evacuation centre – with all cultures, faiths and food needs. A Muslim gentleman found a corner to pray in the morning, a Filipino family brought food in a rice cooker.

Early afternoon Wednesday, May 4, the wind and heat picked up – Anzac would be evacuated shortly. When a group of RCMP officers arrived from Slave Lake and said Highway 63 had cleared, we drove south to Edmonton to stay with family.

These photos, some of which were published by media throughout the world, reflect what we saw during our evacuation.