Summer in Alberta is always marked by wildfires, and this past summer was no different.
The province saw more hectares burned than in years past, even though there were fewer fires.
One of the biggest and most disruptive wildfire was the Chuckegg Creek Fire near High Level, which forced roughly 5,000 people from their homes.
Many of those residents fled to Slave Lake, where, a few days later, they were faced with the threat of another wildfire burning near there.
At one point, it seemed like wildfires were burning all over the province and, ultimately, approximately 9,000 people were forced to leave their communities because of the different blazes.
Though most of the action was happening up north, the wildfires weren’t far from the minds of people in Edmonton. The smoke had wafted down to the capital city, turning the sky a shade of orange and bringing with it an eeriness you typically associate with a post-apocalyptic movie.
These breaking news events are why most news people get into the business – you get adrenaline rushes, you go places most people don’t get to see and you bring people real-time news updates about their community.
It can be thrilling but the job isn’t as glamourous as people might think. The first crews sent up to High Level didn’t have electricity or Wi-Fi and there were technical issues around actually broadcasting news from there.
You end up sleeping where you can (one of our cameramen slept on the floor of our live truck), you eat what you can (we stocked up on water, fruit and granola bars before we left) and you work where you can (usually in the news van or sometimes on the floor of your motel room).
However, there was kindness with every turn – whether it was the local convenience store outside of the barricade letting us use their washrooms, the County of Northern Lights allowing us to work in one of their conference rooms or High Level evacuees who graciously let us come into their homes for interviews minutes after they came home.
Wildfires can be a stressful time for evacuees and first responders, and the situation is often very fluid.
But the stories we get to tell – about the firefighters working around the clock, the homeowners committed to keep their properties safe and the strangers who open their homes to help others – show the best of human nature.
And that makes it all worth it.