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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


How Not To Evacuate - A Lighthearted Tale of Fleeing One’s City

(3 votes)

When my wife goes away, I sometimes forget to get Junior to bath. Two days later when she returns he will smell of all the bad things that adhere to little boys, and she’ll shake her head.

Or she’ll ask me to get four things at the store and I’ll get five: two will be wrong, one incredibly so. “Cat food,” she’ll say. “We don’t have a cat.”

It was a leap of faith then, for her to trust me on Tuesday the third of May. 

“You need to go and fetch Junior at school.”


“Because of the smoke from the fires.”

“What fires?” I said. My wife sighed. She does that a lot. Had she not been at site she would have completed everything in half the time and with twice the efficiency.

When we returned, there were three messages from her.

“Honey, you need to start packing.”

“What for?” I tried unsuccessfully not to sound petulant.

“They have announced a voluntary evacuation. Please pack and come up here.”

“It’ll blow over,” I said, ostrich-like.

“Honey-y-y,” she said, the edge to her voice as peeved as she ever normally gets.

“I’ll start packing,” I said. I intended to get a case and throw some things in so when she came home later, and I was proven right, she would see I had complied.

I found clothes for Junior, then me, and finally herself. Packing for women 101: 

They keep clothes that don’t fit. 

Leave them.

Pack their socks, or you will lose your own.

No matter how hot it is, pack at least one sweater.

If you don’t know what to pack from the bathroom, bring it all. You will still not pack the one thing she needed, be it the left eyelash depilatory cream or the hoople-pick tweezers, but you will get an A+ for effort.

There are two piles of underwear in her drawer; what she wears and what you think she should wear. Don’t pack the second pile.

I thought I did well. I remembered the tax deduction, dog food, dog, dog bowls; iPads/pods/phones/laptops and chargers. Snacks, water, toiletries, toilet paper. I dutifully reported my progress every fifteen minutes, preparing for what I suspected would be a short inconvenient trip at most.

Every time she called she tried to coax me into leaving; every time I told her we were fine, there was probably no one else on the roads, and the trip would be an anticlimax; every time her voice cracked a little more, her worry seeped through.

I was planning what music to listen to, she was warning me the roads would get busy. I was making coffee, she was telling me Thickwood, Dickinsfield and Wood Buffalo were under mandatory evacuation. I looked for a corkscrew to pack, she was asking me to leave before the rush. I nonchalantly assumed we would be back home by 8 p.m. at the latest while she was telling us the condemned accommodation at site was being reopened for the night.

This last bit of information was enough for what I thought was my moment of parental genius.

When my wife phoned again, at the edge of forbearance with her dimwitted husband, the stress of not being able to do anything and having to rely on me caused what I can only suggest was a seismic shift in her serenity. After all our years together, for once she had had enough.

“Honey-y-y-y,” she said, “There’s a mandatory evacuation order for the whole of Fort McMurray now. Please leave at once and come to me.”

“As soon as Junior’s clean,” I said, a tinge of triumph in my voice.

“What do you mean?” she said, and there was a glacial tinge in her tone.

“If we are, as you suggested, going to rough it, I thought he should bathe…”

“How can you be so stupid? There’s a fire coming and you put our son in the bath? Get him out now, get your ass in the truck and get here.”


I did as ordered. I was tempted to remind her that I had, for once, scored well on hygiene, but then I also remembered I wanted to live. 

Kevin Thornton is a writer and columnist. The week of the fire he wrote about his experiences for the New York Times. The following week he did the same for the Devon Dispatch.

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Kevin has been writing for YMM since the first issue. Many of his articles have been pseudonymous, hidden behind the tags Keyano writer or YMM staff. Kevin has been a columnist for many years, working for some of the leading newspapers of the world, including the New York Times and the Devon Dispatch.