It was an emotional reunion Monday afternoon, when a Nova Scotia man arrived back in Elmsdale after driving for more than three days from fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, Alta.
Darrell Garnett had been staying with his daughter, Joanne, in Alberta when the fires began. Last Tuesday, they were forced to evacuate from her home in the Abasand neighbourhood as flames encroached on her street.
The two grabbed as many things as they could before fleeing.
“I went home, me and my dad started packing. When we brought the first load out to the truck, the sky was an eerie black and orange colour, when we came out with the second load, my street was on fire,” Joanne said.
“The road was actually on fire. [We] got down to the hill and there were people running with their kids and everything else – people actually abandoned their vehicles up in Abasand and started running to get out. So, it was petrifying.”
A work colleague from the municipality would later confirm with a photograph that her house burned down in the blaze.
Joanne and her son Jordan, who just turned five this past weekend, ended up at a work camp up north that was used to house evacuees.
When the opportunity arose to be flown out of the area, her father insisted she go with her son. Darrell chose to stay behind so he could make the trek back to Nova Scotia with her truck.
“Leaving my dad was the hardest part,” she said while holding back tears.
“He was sitting on the highway for 18 hours waiting for them to be escorted through Fort McMurray. I think leaving him was the worst part.”
Joanne and her son flew into Calgary and eventually booked a flight back to Nova Scotia for Friday afternoon.
Since then, the community has rallied behind her — fundraising money through a GoFundMe account and donating clothes and supplies.
And on Monday afternoon, Darrell arrived at the family home in Elmsdale — bringing with him the family’s two cats, a dog, and an assortment of items saved from Joanne’s home.
“It’s been a long stressful week between the fires out there and road blocks and running from one safe haven to another,” he said.
“I use the expression: ‘walk through hell.’ Basically, we were doing that with the fires going on.”
As the two embraced, Darrell was able to give his daughter a cherished momento rescued from her house: a horseshoe that once belonged to her grandfather.
“When we left the house in a hurry, it was on the fireplace she was ripping at it trying to get it off the wall. So I went over and tore it off the wall,” he said.
“She might need it for good luck.”
It won’t just be luck, but also determination, that will get the family back on its feet.
Joanne plans to head back to Fort McMurray as soon as she can and is optimistic the community will rebuild. She’s already filed an insurance claim for her house but was told it could take a month before adjustors can make it to the scene.
In the meantime, she has a plan.
“I’m looking to purchase a camper to go back with and looking at something we can live in for a year or whatever,” she said.
“I’m going back. I’m building my house back. We’re going to start over again.”
She has already been in touch with her employer, to discuss returning to work as soon as possible.