Twenty years ago, a tornado ripped through a central Alberta community, killing a dozen people in its path.
This Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the Pine Lake tornado, which killed 12 people, injured 150 more and left behind many destroyed trees, trailers, buildings and cars.
Cliff Fuller was Red Deer County Fire chief when the F3 tornado hit the area on July 14, 2000.
“The radio came in saying a tornado had touched down, so I raced out … to Pine Lake,” said Fuller, who retired about 10 years ago.
Fuller says “the devastation was apparent” when he got to the lake, which is about 30 minutes southeast of Red Deer.
“I called for backup immediately. I was there ahead of the engines and called for as many ambulances as I could get because people were running up to me and telling me there were injuries and fatalities,” he said.
Green Acres Campground, which bore the brunt of the tornado’s wrath, declined an interview request on Saturday.
Emergency crews searched the area for hours following the tornado, Fuller added.
“One thing that complicated things was the registration office was blown completely away, so we had no way of knowing how many people were staying there and who was missing,” he said.
Fuller worked as site manager at the scene for 10 days.
This was one of the worst days Fuller experienced as a firefighter, he said, adding he had 32-year career as a military firefighter.
“There was total devastation and a lot of heartbreak to go along with it. There was a lot of PTSD in my firefighters afterwards – not only my firefighters, but everyone who was there.
“To this day … I get choked up about it. It affected me too,” he said.
Fuller praised all of the agencies involved in the recovery.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood was in Trochu when he heard about the tornado.
“It was a worrisome time. This was a tragedy. … I remember that day very well,” said Wood.
“Everyone at that time was immediately uncertain about how bad it was – but it was really that bad.”
While he wasn’t close enough to see the immediate destruction caused as the tornado hit the area, he knew many people who survived the incident.
“I remember my daughter was working at the Whispering Pines (Golf and Country Club),” said Wood.
”To know you have a family member anywhere close to an event like this, there’s a moment in time when you’re only concerned about if everyone is OK or not.”
Wood says the county has since become even more prepared to handle a situation like this.
“We have a great emergency response team. I think that through time we became even better prepared for these types of disasters. All I can say is that hopefully they don’t happen, but if they do, we’re prepared at the county level,” he said.