Westport family in limbo after escaping Canada fires

By Teresa Smith

A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo / Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP
A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo / Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian Press via AP

Former Westport woman Lucretia Britt says she knows her home and business are still standing in fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, but has no idea of how badly damaged they are.

Ms Britt, her husband Shane and 11-year-old son Tyson are currently at a hotel in Alberta capital Edmondton, 500km from home, along with hundreds of other evacuees.

"There are still flare-ups," she told The Westport News today. "We're hunkering down for at least a month. Some people say it could be six weeks or even maybe two months?

"Edmonton has been amazing, it's mind-blowing the support we've been given. Canada has been incredible. People give the clothes off their own back."

Ms Britt said the day they fled the fires she had been at work when a friend called to say she should pick up her son from school. The friend had just picked up his own daughter and had seen flames from the school.

She dropped what she was doing at her food preparation business and raced to collect her son. They were then gridlocked in traffic fleeing their neighbourhood.

"One man climbed up on a roof and yelled he could see flames. Then we got on to the other side of the road as no one was using it and got from there to the highway.

"When we got there the traffic was only going in one direction, out. Even the median strip was used.

"We drove for seven hours to get to a safe place but for the first three hours we could still see the fire licking at us."

The sheer volume of traffic meant the going was very slow, she said. People shared what they had in food and water through vehicle windows.

They eventually made it to an oil sands camp, which was well-provisioned for emergencies. However, so many other people had arrived before them they couldn't stay.

"We were in the car 14 hours that day before we could finally stop."

Her father-in-law and sister-in-law had followed in a vehicle with two family dogs.

This aerial photo shows a devastated neighborhood in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo / Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP
This aerial photo shows a devastated neighborhood in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo / Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Since they fled, things had got harder rather than easier, she said.

"We don't know what sort of city we'll be going back to. And we don't know what to do about things like school enrolments or putting kids in sport."

The fires had forced the ceasing of oil sand production, a significant employer in the area.

Her husband was one of a team now in Edmonton looking at how to restart production, she said.

"The oil sands have never been shut down and they have to find a way to open them back up again."

Ms Britt said she was very proud of the city that she had been living in for the past 11 years and how everyone had worked together in the terrifying circumstances.

"We've been talking about it and people say it's probably because so many people work in oil sands. Maybe 60 per cent of people know how to deal with an emergency because of that."

She'd received hundreds of goodwill messages from Westport and elsewhere. "It was a huge support, I can't reply to them all. People will never know how much it means to see them coming through."

- Westport News

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