Over 80,000 people fled the fire in Fort McMurray this week, and there is a personal story behind each one of them. Kyle Lomon, born and raised in Kimberley, and now working as a firefighter at one of the oilfield sites, spoke to the Kimberley Bulletin from an evacuation centre in Edmonton on Thursday morning.
Lomon, and his partner Katie Brown, also from Kimberley, who works at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre as a nurse, evacuated Fort McMurray on Tuesday evening.
Before they left, they lent a hand with the hospital evacuation.
“Katie was supposed to work that night but she wasn’t on shift yet,” he said. “We wanted to do something to help, so we quickly packed up the house and the dogs and went to the hospital and helped evacuate the patients.”
At that point the plan was to drive north, where the patients had been evacuated and meet up with them. But, flames jumped the highway and the drive north wasn’t an option, so Katie and Kyle, and Katie’s mom, joined the exodus south towards Edmonton.
“We had three vehicles, and our dogs and as much stuff as we could pack quickly,” Kyle said. “We were well off for fuel, but we ditched one car on the side of the road. It just seemed three vehicles was too much, save some resources for other people.”
Many will have seen pictures of vehicles driving through fire on both sides of the highway and Kyle says the scene certainly was intense.
“The fire was quite intense as we were driving by, heavy black smoke. When you have all your personal belongings and everything you care about with you, it’s a bit intimidating.”
At the time of the interview, Kyle and Katie were fairly certain their rental house in the Eagle Ridge area of Fort McMurray was still standing.
“The fire hasn’t crossed the highway yet,” he said.
Kyle and Katie were at an evacuation centre in Edmonton on Thursday, but Kyle was preparing to fly back north. He is scheduled to go back to work and was hoping he would be sent to Fort McMurray to help other firefighters.
“Our company is just waiting for approval to send one apparatus and a team of firefighters in. Right now they are doing prevention work but as soon as they get that wrapped up, the plans are to send out a team. I want to be on it.”
Katie is waiting for word from Alberta Health. Many of the patients from Fort McMurray are now in Edmonton and she has been told she will likely be put to work at one of the local hospitals to help with the increased patient load.
In the meantime, Kyle says that the mood at the evacuation centre is relatively upbeat.
“Everyone is pretty tired but in a pretty good mood. A lot of people have lost their homes but they are trying to stay positive. From what we are hearing it could be ten days, two weeks or more before anyone can go back. And for people who lost their homes, it could be a lot longer. We’re not sure where we stand, really.”
Lomon says he knows people want to help and the best thing to do is to donate to the Red Cross because both the Alberta and federal governments are matching dollar donations.
“If you have a way to send stuff, gift cards, pet supplies, and kid’s stuff. There are a lot of little kids here.
“And we’d like to thank everyone at home in the East Kootenay for the support and the help already coming, like the airplane.”
Integra Air flew a plane full of supplies out Wednesday evening.
You can donate to the Red Cross at donate.redcross.ca/ and follow the Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal link.