More than 400 people have now made their way into Grande Prairie from the High Level wildfire evacuation zone. Kathy Coomber, a former Grande Prairie resident, says she is eternally grateful to emergency workers for making the evacuation go as smooth as possible for herself and her dog.
“We decided it was time to leave and we didn’t want to get into a situation like in Fort McMurray where people were stuck on the highways. On Monday we had lost power and they had posted an evacuation alert. I had already had a bag packed for like two days before that, so I was good to go.”
That mandatory evacuation order came on Monday and before police and emergency officials began their door-to-door search to get people out safely, Coomber says she was well ahead with many of the lessons learned from the Fort McMurray evacuation in the back of her mind.
“If you have the time take the time. I made sure I was gassed up probably three days before. I made sure I had the appropriate food for my dog ready to go.”
She adds the act of evacuating wasn’t overly stressful but says it left her feeling emotional.
“When you’re leaving it’s really eerie because one way it looks very scary, and then you look out your back window and it is a bright and sunny day.”
With evacuees scattered in several locations across northwestern Alberta, including places like Peace River, Slave Lake, and High Prairie, Coomber says everyone in her situation likely has the same feelings as they are now more than 72 hours away from their normal lives.
“When we get home it will be great and we all want to get home, but I want to get home when it’s safe to get there.”
Coomber says she knew that returning to the Swan City, even under the most dramatic of circumstances, would bring a sense of much-needed relief. She adds she’s grateful for the support she’s received since arriving.
“I knew that the City of Grande Prairie would come together and welcome us and a lot of other people who are coming in. I’m very thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to stay where we are staying and not having money coming out of our pockets.”
Crews continue to battle to keep the wildfire contained outside of the Town of High Level. A release from the province says crews were able to complete a controlled burn on Wednesday to help remove some of the potential fuel between the current location of the fire and the townsite.
The Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership has also announced extended registration hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. as they anticipate more evacuees in the upcoming days.