Stan and Cathy Hunter and their six employees travel back and forth between Red Deer and Slave Lake

Stan and Cathy Hunter and their six employees travel back and forth between Red Deer and Slave Lake

Fight to rebuild homes goes on a year after fire

The aftermath of the Slave Lake wildfire, which saw whole subdivisions crumble into ashes, was something they couldn’t ignore.

The aftermath of the Slave Lake wildfire, which saw whole subdivisions crumble into ashes, was something they couldn’t ignore.

Now, exactly one year later, Red Deer residents Stan and Cathy Hunter reflect on their work in Slave Lake and on the fight to rebuild homes.

The Hunters have had a hand in rebuilding a subdivision in the southeast of Slave Lake — one of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods. More than 400 properties were destroyed or damaged in the blaze.

The owners of Stan Hunter Construction Ltd., a family-run business established in Red Deer in 1986, they have now worked for a year in the town. It all started with a phone call.

“We built a home for some people in Buck Lake and they happened to be related to a couple who lost their home in Slave Lake,” Cathy explained Monday.

“When they lost their home the dad said, ‘Why don’t you call Stan Hunter Construction, I know he goes out of town sometimes.’ ”

A week after the fire in May 2011, and overwhelmed about the loss of their home, Dawn and Dale Thomas contacted the Hunters.

“They came to our home and we discussed it,” Cathy said. “We were kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is four hours away from here.’ ”

Cathy said Stan decided that if he was going to help rebuild the Thomases home, he wanted to do more than one. But having not yet been to Slave Lake, the Hunters were not sold on the idea.

“Cathy and I took a drive up to get a grasp of what was going on because we were sitting on the fence whether or not we were going to do this but once we saw everything, we knew we needed to help,” Stan said by phone from Slave Lake.

“It was like we walked into a nuclear war zone, it was unreal,” Cathy said.

The Hunters bought a business licence at the makeshift town office the same day.

At the end of August, the Hunters had three houses lined up to build. Their first priority was to concentrate on the Thomases home. They set up a motorhome, which acted as their home and office, across the street. They stayed there until Nov. 1.

“Every single family has a story of how they got out and what they took with them,” Cathy said.

She explained that the Thomases barely got out with their children, Caitlin, 18, Blake, 14, and Abby, three.

“The police blocked off their street so she (Dawn Thomas) just left her car and ran and got her kids,” Cathy said.

But as the family fled the area, they were forced to turn around and frantically speed off in the other direction as the fire jumped the road.

“So when you hear all of this you just think someone has to go up there and help.”

Later, the Hunters tried using a nearby hotel but the $15,000 cost per month to house their subcontractors — people from a long list of other dedicated Red Deer businesses — was too much to bear. The business now operates out of a rented duplex.

Cathy said before they decided to build the houses in Slave Lake, they had to contact their subtrade partners such as plumbers, dry wallers and electricians.

“Without their help this is pretty hard to do and they were all on board so we were really fortunate.

“Our crews and my husband, we all have become very attached to the families up there,” Cathy said.

“I have seen more tears shed on these job sites than I have ever seen before, which is not a real common thing when you’re building homes.”

But building homes has had its fair share of issues. With much of the infrastructure damaged, it was difficult to know what was happening with cables and utilities, Stan said.

All things considering, the company was able to complete the Thomases’ new home by December.

The Hunters and their six employees travel back and forth between Red Deer and Salve Lake, visiting their families on the weekends. Cathy said Stan has been in Red Deer only 15 nights since they started. The company planned on operating in Slave Lake for a year and a half and will re-establish itself in Red Deer this December.

“My intention is to complete what I’ve started and we will see how it goes,” Stan said.

“I think it is always something to look back on and say we did our part and I think for all my boys and my workers, it has been a good experience.”

Stan Hunter Construction Ltd. has completed four houses, with two more nearing completion. They intend to complete 10 to 12 houses in Slave Lake.

“It is quite emotional, these people lost everything,” Stan said.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

The City of Red Deer is reaching out to the community to see if anyone wants to move and maintain the Scout Hut from 1937. The land it sits on is needed for a women’s shelter expansion. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
City of Red Deer is calling for proposals for preserving, moving Scout Hut

The 47th Avenue land it sits on is needed for women’s shelter expansion

Students at Olds College will be learning what’s new in agricultural technology at the facility’s Smart Farm. (Photo contributed)
New agricultural technologies explored by students at Olds College

Olds College is launching a new SmartFarm program to help farmers and… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Zach Smith tips a shot off the post against Edmonton Oil Kings netminder Sebastian Cossa Saturday night at the Centrium. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels name new assistant coach, open WHL season on Oct. 1

Rebels will play home opener on Oct. 2

Bobby-Jo Stannard, community development superintendent with the City of Red Deer, and Kelly Andres, city community facilitator, say response to the first mural has been extremely positive. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Mural artists making downtown Red Deer vibrant

Preparing for Meet the Street arts and culture festival

Softwood lumber is pictured in Richmond, B.C. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
While lumber prices drop, relief isn’t exactly on the way for consumers

Consumers in Alberta won’t see the benefit of falling lumber prices any… Continue reading

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan's decision to travel to Arizona for a holiday has been sharply criticized by many.
Advocate file photo
Jason Stephan: Quebec’s actions undermine interests of Alberta

Prior to serving as a MLA, I structured many commercial partnership agreements.… Continue reading

FILE - Great Britain’s Andrew Matthews, from left to right, Ben Simons, Toby Olubi and Lamin Deen celebrate after their second-place finish in a four-man World Cup Bobsleigh race in Whistler, British Columbia, in this Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, file photo. British Bobsleigh and Skeleton announced Thursday, June 17, 2021, that the four-man team of Deen, Simons, Olubi and Matthews has been upgraded to the gold medal for a race that occurred Nov. 25, 2017 in Whistler, Canada. The Russian crew that beat them that day has since been disqualified. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Britain upgraded to World Cup bobsled gold from 2017 race

Driver of Russian sled was sanctioned for doping violations

Leylah Annie Fernandez, of Canada, returns a shot Marie Bouzkova, of the Czech Republic, in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women’s tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. Leylah Annie Fernandez lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) to No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the second round of the Viking Classic Birmingham on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez loses third-set tiebreaker against Ons Jabeur

Jabeur now heads to the quarterfinals at the WTA Tour 250 grass-court event

Feist performs during the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on September 18, 2017. Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist is hitting the road with what’s described as an intimate and “unconventional production” featuring all new music.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan
Leslie Feist to debut new music in ‘unconventional’ and intimate ‘Multitudes’ show

Calgary-raised artist will debut show at Kampnagel Festival in Germany

Letter: Improvements coming to two intersections in Red Deer to help cyclists

A letter in the Advocate on June 9 with complaints about cyclists… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: Trudeau tight-lipped on Constitution attack

When exactly did Canada become a Constitution-bashing country? For nearly 30 years,… Continue reading

Gwynne DYer
Opinion: Western countries giving out vaccines to poor nations

At the recent G7 summit, U.S. President Joe Biden promised to distribute… Continue reading

Most Read