Fort McMurray fire chief who led battle against ‘the beast’ retiring in February

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The man who led a fight against “the beast” is planning to move on from his role as Fort McMurray fire chief.

Darby Allen became the face of the northeastern Alberta community’s scramble to beat back a fierce wildfire that laid waste to 10 per cent of the city.

Nearly 90,000 people fled the flames and were forced out their homes for at least a month, though no one died as a direct result of the fire.

Allen, 59, is planning to retire from his post in February and leave Fort McMurray.

“That’s been a bit of a weird decision for me, but it’s just time for me to move on and get on with the next phase of my life and give my full attention to my lovely wife,” he said in an interview.

He said his wife, Maria, has osteoporosis and frigid northern Alberta winters have been tough on her. They’re looking to relocate somewhere with a more temperate climate.

Allen, who has two sons in their 30s, said he’d always planned to retire at 60 and he’ll be leaving his job about five months ahead of that milestone birthday.

“I’m not going to take a full-time job again in any kind of fire role. I’ve just got some different opportunities that we’re going to look at.”

In the thick of the disaster, Allen dubbed the wildfire “the beast” because it was so ferocious and unpredictable that it seemed to have a mind of its own.

He said his decision to move on was not related to the stress many in the community have experienced in the fire’s aftermath, but admitted he has been struggling a bit emotionally.

“I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong, but just feeling a little bit different. I’ve been getting a little bit of help with that, to be frank, and that’s OK,” he said.

“I keep focusing on the positive and how we’ve managed to get that many people out of here. That’s still paramount in my mind.”

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