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BLOG: Reflecting on the northern Alberta wildfires

Click to play video 'Our Stories: Reflecting on the northern Alberta wildfires' Our Stories: Reflecting on the northern Alberta wildfires
WATCH ABOVE: Summer in Alberta is always marked by wildfires, and this past summer was no different. Global Edmonton's Julia Wong reflects on covering the past wildfire season as part of Our Stories.

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.

A photo of the scorched earth around High Level, Alta.
A photo of the scorched earth around High Level, Alta. Dean Twardzik/Global News
Ash, as seen on a Global News vehicle in La Crete, Alta., fell from the sky during the Chuckegg Creek wildfire.
Ash, as seen on a Global News vehicle in La Crete, Alta., fell from the sky during the Chuckegg Creek wildfire. Fletcher Kent/Global News
Smoke fills the skies on the drive to High Level, Alta.
Smoke fills the skies on the drive to High Level, Alta. Dean Twardzik/Global News

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.

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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.

READ MORE: 9,000 people forced to leave home as wildfires spread in northern Alberta

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.

The skies in Edmonton as smoke drifted down from the northern Alberta wildfires.
The skies in Edmonton as smoke drifted down from the northern Alberta wildfires. Wes Rosa/Global News

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.

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READ MORE: Why does the sky look yellow during a wildfire?

Cameraman Cam Cook and myself, Julia Wong, prepare for a live hit at the barricade just outside the town of High Level.
Cameraman Cam Cook and myself, Julia Wong, prepare for a live hit at the barricade just outside the town of High Level. Global News
Kent Morrison prepares for a live hit in Slave Lake, Alta.
Kent Morrison prepares for a live hit in Slave Lake, Alta. Global News
Fletcher Kent (centre) prepares for a live hit with cameraman Charles Taylor (right) in La Crete, Alta.
Fletcher Kent (centre) prepares for a live hit with cameraman Charles Taylor (right) in La Crete, Alta. Dean Twardzik/Global News
Sarah Ryan prepares for a live hit outside High Level, Alta.
Sarah Ryan prepares for a live hit outside High Level, Alta. Global News

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.

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Cameraman Les Knight (left) and satellite truck operator Dean Twardzik (second from the left) set up for a live hit at the barricade outside High Level, Alta.
Cameraman Les Knight (left) and satellite truck operator Dean Twardzik (second from the left) set up for a live hit at the barricade outside High Level, Alta. Sarah Ryan/Global News
A highway sign outside High Level, Alta. shows how close (or far) we were to the Northwest Territories.
A highway sign outside High Level, Alta. shows how close (or far) we were to the Northwest Territories. Dean Twardzik/Global News

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).

Reporter Tom Vernon (left), cameraman Dean Twzardzik (middle) and cameraman Les Knight (right) work in a motel room in High Level.
Reporter Tom Vernon (left), cameraman Dean Twzardzik (middle) and cameraman Les Knight (right) work in a motel room in High Level. Julia Wong/Global News

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.

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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.