Cape Bretoners still trying to rebuild six months after Fort McMurray wildfire
It has been six months since the Alberta wildfires devastated Fort McMurray and many Maritimers who live there are just now starting to rebuild their lives.
Kortnie and Todd MacDougall are originally from Glace Bay but, like many Maritimers, they headed west in search of employment. The newly-married couple had only been in their home for a year before it was destroyed in the wildfire.
“It was a pretty hard pill to swallow. We looked at each other and had no words,” says Todd. “We tried to think of the things we lost and what we’ve been through. We actually couldn’t believe it happened.”
Security cameras captured the devastation as firefighters tried to save their home. The couple watched it all unfold on a live feed after they were evacuated to Edmonton.
The neighbourhood that had become their home looked like a war zone. They lost everything, including family keepsakes. The fire still haunts them today.
“Even going back to that day still brings tears to my eyes. I can honestly say I haven’t watched that video since the time we had taken it,” says Kortnie.
Back home in Glace Bay, Todd’s parents find the video difficult to watch.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to see your child go through something and you’re not there. You can’t help. It’s hard,” says Norma MacDougall.
May 1, 2016 is a day many will never forget. The wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, two days later sweeping through the community and destroying more than 2,400 homes and buildings and forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Albertan history.
It was a time of uncertainty for many Maritimers, including oil sands worker Rod Gale.
He watched the wildfires from his home in Cape Breton. The pipefitter had spent 10 years in Fort McMurray and he was worried about his future job prospects. But he got the call to go back and has just returned home after working out west for four months.
“I’m one of the lucky ones that got called back to work,” says Gale. “I have everything I own due to Alberta and the oil industry. I have a house, a car, a livelihood.”
But things looked a lot different when he returned to Fort McMurray.
“It almost looks like an atomic warhead went off,” he says. “It’s flattened. There’s no houses. All there is is rubble. That’s what a couple of neighbourhoods look like.”
While the holiday season looks a lot brighter for Gale and his family, it will be a challenge for those who are back in Fort McMurray.
“It will be different not being in our home and having the little things,” says Kortnie. “The decorations that were lost, the things you accumulated over the years, hand-me-downs from family.”
The MacDougalls hope to rebuild this spring, but say they will never forget the day that changed their lives, and the landscape of the Alberta city, forever.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kyle Moore