With a wildfire raging just kilometres from his Fort McMurray home, Andrew Benty packed some provisions for he and his pregnant wife, all the while believing that he would return home the next day.
The Golden native took camping gear, water, peanut butter, passports, cash, and a few valuables, and did his best to guess what clothes his wife Natasha would need.
“I was waiting for her to get home, thinking she better get home so she can pack her own stuff because I didn’t know,” Andrew laughed.
The fire had been a distant presence for a couple of days before the situation came to a head on May 3. Andrew recalls seeing the fire two days earlier, on the Sunday afternoon.
“There was smoke but it was in the distance and it didn’t look too threatening,” Andrew recalled.
The weather was beautiful on Monday, and then the situation changed rapidly on Tuesday in the early afternoon.
“At 12:45 it was gorgeous and at 1:15 it was crazy,” Natasha said.
Natasha, a high school teacher, was in her classroom when the evacuation order came down.
“The kids were starting to get panicked because it looked awful and then parents started calling the school like crazy,” she said.
Andrew, who works about 30 kilometres north of the city, left work and got home to pack up at around 4 p.m. while Natasha was still at the school.
“I was home and messaging her…and the fire was getting worse and worse in the background,” he said.
Both were sent to camps north of the city, and were reunited later in the night at a set location.
“Natasha didn’t have any food or water and it was very stressful,” Andrew said.
Natasha is eight months pregnant and while that might have made the situation more stressful, she is grateful that she didn’t have a different experience.
“I was just thankful that I’m not further along because there were babies born in work camps on the Tuesday night,” she said.
After spending a night at an office on a rickety bed, the couple was flown out of an airport north of the city to Calgary, where they were picked up by Andrew’s mother Christina.
Despite Andrew’s initial belief that the evacuation order would be temporary, it’s now two weeks later and the couple has yet to return home. The wait might be a long one, with officials saying it could still be weeks before Fort McMurray is declared safe.
Through the whole ordeal, the Bentys remain grateful for their good fortune. It appears as though their home has escaped the worst of the fire, and should be intact when they are finally able to return. They are also grateful that they have plenty of family and friends in the area, as many of their friends have had difficulty finding appropriate accommodations while waiting to return to the city.
“We were grateful, we were very lucky. Our experience was much better than many people in a similar situation,” Andrew said.