A Nova Scotia family that escaped the wildfires in Fort McMurray is on their way back to the east coast, thanks to the kindness of strangers and government funding.
The Keatings and their children aged two, four, seven and eight, are driving from Edmonton to the Halifax area.
The family of six was evacuated from their home last week, as flames from the destructive wildfire reached their neighbourhood of Abasand.
“We could actually see the flames outside of our window and since Peter wasn’t home, I had to go out into the streets and yell for help for somebody to drive us out because I don’t have my license,” Courtney Keating told Global News.
“It was completely gridlocked. It took us an hour to get about 20 feet from our doorstep and we saw the flames move to our street so we knew our home was gone before we left the city.”
The family was able to escape to Edmonton and stay with a co-worker. Since then, they say they have encountered nothing but generosity.
“Everybody knows how thankful we are. The whole country is pulling together to help Fort McMurray and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts,” she said.
Not only did the community gather donations of clothing, toys and diapers for the family, an online campaign also lined up people willing to open their homes to the family along their route to Nova Scotia.
“We hope not to have to stay at all of them because we’re anxious to get home as quickly and as safely as possible but there are a dozen or so options if we need them,” Keating said.
On Wednesday, the family was among the thousands of evacuees who lined up outside the Butterdome arena in Edmonton to receive pre-loaded debit cards from the province of Alberta. They were given priority in the line-up because two of their sons have special needs.
“Well worth it. I would wait hours more if I had to,” said Keating’s husband, Peter, after receiving the debit card for $4,500.
“It is a huge relief. That is a big deal. That is probably our whole entire trip paid for.”
With that money, the family packed up their van and left Thursday afternoon for Nova Scotia.
They plan to arrive sometime next week.
“We definitely have a lot of anxiety and mixed emotions about driving for five days with four small children, but we’re very anxious to get back to our families and have them wrap their arms around us and us wrap our arms around them,” Keating said.
Both Peter and Courtney plan to head back to Fort McMurray soon to return to work and find a new home, before bringing their children out west again.