A Fort McMurray woman who had to make a desperate escape from a raging wildfire and still doesn’t know if her home is salvageable, got at least some good news this week: Marshall, her beer-guzzling pig, is alive and well.
Like so many other evacuees, Michelle Coutu was forced to make some heartbreaking decisions last week as she scrambled to pack a few things and drive through the flames with family and her dogs.
“I was in my garage cleaning. My daughter had called me coming down Beacon Hill… I didn’t realize how quickly the fire had spread,” she said. “She said, ‘Mum, we gotta get your stuff, we gotta go.’
“Waterways by that time was on fire. We drove through Waterways while it was on fire.”
Coutu said she packed a few things and got in her car. On the way to pick up her daughter and grandson and a few dogs, she stopped by Draper Road where Marshall’s pen is.
“Marshall is about 90 pounds plus and not very cooperative to get into a vehicle, let alone the back of a pickup truck,” she said. “I couldn’t load Marshall up so I had to open his enclosure up and just hope for the best for him.”
“I was absolutely devastated,” Coutu said. “I put some food down for him… it was breaking my heart to let him out and just not know his fate.
“And it is his second evacuation. Last time, the RCMP helped load him up and that was about three years ago for the Clearwater River flood that just about washed out the bridge – so it was a mandatory evacuation then.”
Coutu and her family headed to Stony Plain to stay with a co-worker. Her daughter and grandson later went to Saskatchewan and Coutu began making the long journey to Newfoundland, where her boyfriend is from.
On Monday, Alberta RCMP tweeted a photo of some animals they had rescued in Fort McMurray, including a pig.
Coutu said her cell reception was spotty as she travelled, but occasionally she would check her Facebook messages and after the RCMP tweet emerged, she was flooded with messages that Marshall appeared to be alive.”He was found really close to where I originally let him out. If anything, he was probably making a nuisance of himself or doing what he needed to do to survive the way I look at it – hanging around the neighbour’s yard and probably getting into cans of empty beer cans and whatnot,” she said with a laugh.
When asked about Marshall’s reputation for being fond of beer, Coutu said his passion for brew is not exaggerated.
“Belly rubs and beer,” she laughed. “If you put a beer can down or even if you open a beer, he’s your best friend. He just hears the can crack and he runs over and he figures that he should have some.”
Coutu’s future remains uncertain. Her boyfriend’s son is registering for school in Newfoundland and she said her home was one of the few left standing in her corner of the neighbourhood. On Thursday evening, she was in Sydney, Nova Scotia waiting for a ferry to take her to Newfoundland.
She said while she isn’t certain when she’ll be back home, Marshall is being well taken care of at Fort McMurray’s Dunvegan Gardens, near where his pen was and that her ex-partner, who shares custody of Marshall with her, is making sure he’s taken care of until everybody can return home.
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