Nearly one year after a forest fire caused mass evacuation from Fort McMurray, a provincial politician who was personally affected is reflecting.
Wildrose leader and Fort McMurray – Conklin MLA Brian Jean remembers the day he learned the city was burning.
He was in question period in the legislature here in Edmonton when his nephew informed him of the situation.
“Shortly thereafter I left question period, and I called him and he told me that he was fleeing our community and that everybody else was fleeing and there was a mass exodus in the community itself,” Jean recalled. “My home had been destroyed, as had our entire suburb.”
IN PICTURES: 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire
Jean immediately headed to Canadian Tire with fellow MLA Tany Yao to get supplies and head to Fort Mac.
As they neared the city, they hit what he described as literal wall of traffic.
“Four, five lanes of traffic coming towards us going directly south on Highway 63, using both the north and the south highway,” he said.
— Brian Jean (@BrianJeanWRP) May 4, 2016
Once they arrived in Fort McMurray, it was a different story.
“It was deserted. It was desolate,” described Jean. “There was nobody on the roads or in the community itself.”
Around 500 emergency workers, RCMP officers and firefighters were the only ones left in the city which had been a bustling community of over 80,000 just hours earlier.
Jean’s own Fort McMurray home was burned to the ground. He still hasn’t been able to rebuild his home the way it once stood.
'I understand my own home is in flames': Wildrose Leader Brian Jean https://t.co/SFyLVRc4ga
— Global Edmonton (@GlobalEdmonton) May 4, 2016
While the Wildrose leader isn’t casting blame, he can’t help but wonder what else could have been done to prevent the tragedy. After Slave Lake, he doesn’t believe there’s a reason another forest fire should have been able to strike with such devastating effects.
“Insurance or no insurance, people still suffered a lot of harm,” Jean explained. “There’s a lot of people that do not have the adequate insurance to cover what they lost and I know many, many people that are in that circumstance.”
IN PICTURES: The return to Fort McMurray
Despite the way the wildfire shattered the community, burning buildings to the ground and displacing residents, Jean is looking for the silver lining.
“The people of Fort McMurray are strong, and I’m confident that we’ll continue to persevere, as we always have, because this is not our first challenge and it won’t be our last,” he said. “It makes us stronger and I think it makes us a lot more capable of overcoming situations like this.”
The anniversary of the wildfire and evacuation is this Wednesday, May 3.