A pair of nurses and friends from Fort McMurray’s hospital are in Sylvan Lake waiting for the all-clear to return home and their jobs caring for others.
After frightening journeys to safety Denise Delaney and Desiree MacKenzie and their families arrived last week in Sylvan Lake, where they both have relatives. For the next few days, they watched anxiously to see if they would have homes to return to.
Both nurses in Fort McMurray Hospital’s maternity unit, MacKenzie and Delaney shared their stories on Friday at a lunch hosted by Town of Sylvan Lake staff and local volunteers. It also served as an information fair to connect evacuees to the help coming through the province and Canadian Red Cross.
Both families left their burning city on May 3. The 30-minute journey to Anzac, took 10 hours, said MacKenzie, who fled with husband Jamie and their four children, aged five to 11. An 18-year-old son also had to leave and is staying in Edmonton.
They came close to losing their home, but the flames stopped short.
“The entire street in front of us is gone. We think our house is still there but it may be damaged,” said MacKenzie.
“We were really not that close to the fire so we thought we were going to be OK,” she said. “Then we found out it was our street that was on fire.
“It was frightening.”
Since they were so far from the flames when they left, she hadn’t taken any photos or other family memorabilia.
“I just packed the kids’ clothes.”
Friends and other neighbours they know through school have lost their homes, she said.
Delaney went to her sister’s home before evacuating. So many people were in the press of vehicles to leave, a neighbour had taken down a barricade to allow people to drive along a trail to reach the highway.
“We were standing on the back deck and we could see smoke coming from different directions and we could see helicopters.
“We could see people trying to get out from the trail (onto the highway).”
In Sylvan Lake she also got good news that her home, which she shares with her husband and two children, was untouched.
“Our house is, thankfully, still standing. It was away from any water and fire so we don’t think there’s much water or smoke damage.
“We didn’t know that for days. It was horrifying because when we were evacuated I didn’t have time to pack all my memories.
“I just kind of grabbed a couple of baby albums and my wedding album, clothes for the kids and I, and that was it.”
As she waited to find out whether she still had a home, her mind went to the things she wished she had taken — children’s christening clothes, her wedding gown, pictures on the wall.
Her husband, who works for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, has already returned but it will likely be a couple of weeks before the rest of the family can follow.
Both women appreciated the welcome they received in their temporary home town.
“It’s been amazing,” said MacKenzie. “Everybody here has been so generous and heart warming. Everyone is reaching out to help us. It makes me feel really good that people are trying to make us as comfortable as we can.”
Delaney was also moved by the local support. “It’s been wonderful.”
When they can return to their jobs at the hospital is unknown. They’ve heard it could take up to two months to completely restore the hospital.
The women recently got some good news from Alberta Health Services. They will be paid until the hospital reopens, removing one of their worries.