Of Book Releases and Fires
(This photo was shared with me by one of my students)
Talk about timing. I woke up on the morning of May 3rd thrilled that this was the official release date for my fourth novel, Hadrian’s Rage! I still had to go to work but I frantically began tweeting, retweeting and posting to my Facebook pages. Today was my day and I planned to enjoy every moment of it.
Apparently, by noon, awareness was starting to set in amongst many residents that the wild fire burning 10 Ks outside our city was no longer under control (a fire I learned via radio news is burning over ten hectares and resisting all attempts to get it under control). I remained oblivious in my class room teaching about writing paragraphs and the wonders of character development in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Partway through my third block students started showing me pictures of the fire that was not so far away and not so under control.
I commend my school administration and office staff for the calm manner they went about ensuring student safety and a timely evacuation of our school. To my limited knowledge all our students and staff are safe.
Ensuring the safe evacuation of an entire city is indeed a phenomenal accomplishment, especially one as spread out and as heavily populated as Fort McMurray. I credit my city officials, our firefighters and local RCMP for all their incredible efforts. I have yet to hear of any casualties and, though the stories of horror and videos evidencing mass destruction of my community, I am proud to say Fort McMurray got us all out safe. We are alive!
My husband and I texted frantically and he agreed to begin packing for evac. As soon as I got home from work we got the dog, a few of life’s essentials and, following the advice on FM’s Country Radio Station we headed north. As we crossed the overpass from Thickwood blvd. onto highway 63 north was saw the flames inside our city. I felt my heart squeeze. My city, my home for over twenty years was up in flames. We drove north not knowing if we’d ever see our home again. My next moment of terror (life will never be the same again) happened when the radio announcer said they had to go off air as they, too, were being evacuated.
So how could something like this have happened? I do not know where the first spark came from but I’ve heard on the news that it was most likely man made. We’ve had no lightening of late so nature’s off the hook. Was it the flick of a cigarette? Was it a spark off the exhaust of a quad? I don’t know at this time. All I do know is that our city has been sitting on this time bomb for decades.
Here’s the recipe for a major catastrophe: dry, hot, windy weather; tinder build up of dead leaves, grass and dead fall; one dumb ass with a cigarette or a quad; after this little mix-up ignites you only need to add one road in and one road out into the burning frypan. That cooks up more than a catastrophe. Fort McMurray residents we are all lucky to be alive. We owe our lives to those administrators, city officials, firefighters and RCMP officers that are still risking their lives for ours.
I loved my city before this disaster happened. Now, in the midst of this disaster I can truly say, I will carry Fort McMurray in my heart and in my soul for the rest of my life!
Now it is May 4th and I was scheduled to be interviewed by Europe Talk Radio about my new release. (Did I just have a book released? Somehow that seems so inconsequential at the moment.) I only remembered around 5:30 am. A few quick emails managed to grant me a reprieve. I am endeared to Europe Talk Radio for rescheduling me interview date for some time after this catastrophe has abated.
Right now my husband, dog and I are safely stowed in Fort MacKay, Alberta, Canada. Our car is now our house and we are parked outside the Fort MacKay First Nation’s Band Hall. Fort MacKay residents have really taken care of Fort McMurray evacuees. We have food, coffee, tea, juice and water. They have given us bedding and places to lay our tired and frightened bodies. I’ve watched in awe as these volunteers run around ensuring that all our needs are being attended to. The residents of Fort MacKay exhibit all the finest traits of what makes humanity, as Shakespeare aptly put it: “noble in reason! … infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel!” (Hamlet, Act II, scene ii.)
I am but one of 80,000 displaced persons as a result of this disaster but I am not devastated or beyond hope. I sit cradled and safe in the palms of the greatest hands of humanity. I love my city! I love Fort MacKay! I love my province and I love my country! It feels good to be alive!
P.S. Please forgive any errors as I wrote this on my phone without a grammar and spell check.