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Fort McMurray wildfire: 1 year later, bride who fled the flames reflects on past 12 months

Elise and Brandon Phillippo and their baby Kellan Xavier are shown in a family handout photo. It's been a busy year for Elise Phillippo and her husband Brandon. They got hitched, bought a house and had a baby - all against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
Elise and Brandon Phillippo and their baby Kellan Xavier are shown in a family handout photo. It's been a busy year for Elise Phillippo and her husband Brandon. They got hitched, bought a house and had a baby - all against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Elise Phillippo MANDATORY CREDIT

It’s been a busy year for Elise Phillippo and her husband Brandon.

They got hitched, bought a house and had a baby — all against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

Four days before her May 7 wedding, the bride-to-be was planning to pick up her dress from the seamstress after work.

Instead, she was among the more than 88,000 Fort McMurray residents caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic as a fierce wildfire forced the entire northeastern Alberta city to empty.

Phillippo would never see that dress again. It was inside a home that burned in the hard-hit Abasand neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Strangers help bride who lost dress in Fort McMurray wildfire

Watch below: From May 2016, a Fort McMurray bride-to-be who lost her dress in the wildfire finds a replacement in Toronto.

Fort McMurray bride-to-be who lost dress in wildfire finds replacement in Toronto
Fort McMurray bride-to-be who lost dress in wildfire finds replacement in Toronto

In Toronto, where the wedding was to take place, the couple’s photographer, Alex Neary with Wild Eyed Photography, asked if there was anything she could do to help.

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“And I said, ‘I need a dress,'” recalls Phillippo, 30.

She thought perhaps Neary could scrounge up a second-hand one from a friend.

“All of a sudden she messaged back and said she had all these dresses,” Phillippo says.

“I was taken aback. What do you mean: ‘All these dresses?'”

Word got around on social media.

“People just started offering dresses one after another. I just couldn’t wrap my head around people being as generous as they were. They had no idea who I was, so they definitely didn’t have to do that for me.”

A shop in downtown Toronto, Lea-Ann Belter Bridal, gave Phillippo one dress and loaned her another.

The couple tied the knot on Toronto Island on the same day they had planned all along.

At the ceremony, Phillippo wore the loaner, a lacy number with spaghetti straps and a train. The donated dress got some use months later, when she let a friend, who was trying to save money, wear it for her wedding.

From Toronto, the newlyweds went to Edmonton and waited for the evacuation order to lift. Phillippo, a massage therapist, spent that time working at the Active Life Centre clinic in St. Albert, where she says she was treated like family.

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The home the couple was renting in Fort McMurray’s Thickwood neighbourhood was undamaged by the fire. They have since bought it.

Phillippo expects her first wedding anniversary to be low key. Their two-month-old son Kellan Xavier takes up all the time and attention.

READ MORE: Feelings of hope, uncertainty one year after Fort McMurray wildfire

The one-year anniversary of the fire is looming a bit larger in her mind.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire one year later: The rebuild by the numbers

“I’m actually kind of looking forward to the anniversary of the fire, as strange as that sounds,” she says. “I’m kind of hoping that it gives people some peace.”

Watch below: The Fort McMurray wildfire was Global National’s Top Story of 2016. Reid Fiest filed this report on Dec. 28, 2017.

Fort McMurray wildfire: Top Canadian Story 2016
Fort McMurray wildfire: Top Canadian Story 2016