After Allan Roberts and his wife were forced to leave their home in Parkland County due to an incoming wildfire, they watched their security footage as the flames grew closer.
The evacuation order was issued at around 12:30 a.m. Friday, after a wildfire sprung up Thursday afternoon west of the hamlet of Tomahawk — which is located just southwest of Wabamun Lake.
Roberts said they had been keeping an eye on the fire, setting up sprinklers around their home and RCMP told them about the evacuation.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he said.
“It’s a different feeling because it’s something we worked hard all our life to build. We retired out here.
“It’s tough, but you do what you’re told. The experts have to be able to do their job.”
Later Friday morning, Parkland County fire chief Brian Cornforth said the wildfire had grown to more than 1,000 hectares in size and that some structures were lost in the fire overnight as high winds fanned the flames.
As they watched their security feed, the Roberts saw the fire getting closer and firefighters started appearing — in and out of camera shot.
“I think it was about 4:30 when the cameras really started to show and there was just embers everywhere.
“I’m a true believer that the firemen kept us safe. And there’s a young fellow from Fortis who I know moved one of my sprinklers over and protected the back of the house, which is exceptional. I just can’t thank these guys enough. They did an amazing job.”
Late Friday afternoon, the county said fire crews managed to stop the direction of the 2,220-hectare wildfire near Tomahawk, and were working to contain the flames.
The Roberts remained glued to their security camera feed, which was still working.
“We could still see that the house was still standing, which is pretty amazing.
“You look at that camera and it just can’t be real,” he said.
Roberts also credits the asphalt driveway and Hardie board siding for keeping the home protected from the flames.
The Roberts family returned home on Sunday.
“We were so tired from no sleep that it didn’t really hit us until yesterday when we actually got to sit and rest for a while.
“It just got surreal. You just go: ‘I can’t believe we’re here and life is good again and it’s normal.’ It’s just amazing because it really shouldn’t be. Someone did something great.”
More than 60 firefighters were battling the blaze, including crews from Parkland County, Stony Plain, Brazeau County, Yellowhead County, High Level, Clearwater County and Alberta Forestry, as well as private fire contractors.
“I can’t thank all these people enough,” Roberts said. “I believe they saved our house.”
Sections of the property are scorched — as is nearby Crown land — but the Roberts are grateful their dream home is still standing. They’ve sent a thank you note to the Tomahawk Fire Department as well.
Tomahawk is a hamlet located about 95 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
On Monday, Parkland County said the fire remained at 2,220 hectares in size. While there was no further spread, it’s not yet classified as contained.
“Our fire crews are still making excellent progress on completing the fireguard around the perimeter,” Amber Coleman, deputy fire chief of operations for Parkland County, said.
The state of local emergency remains in effect and if conditions change, the evacuation order may be re-issued, she said. Roads are limited to local traffic only.
“There’s still active fire,” Coleman said.
“There’s still some heavy fuels that are burned, some that aren’t burned, there’s fields,” she explained, adding the geography and topography make this fire challenging.
“The fuels involved — it’s peat. There is a lot of a black spruce, which is heavy fuel loads and weather.
“Peat moss burns deep — it burns down into the ground — so a lot of times you’ll have to dig the area out with equipment to actually get to the seat of the fire.”
Still, Coleman said crews are optimistic they’ll be able to make progress.
“A lot of it is smouldering at the moment but with temperatures, it’ll dry up what little moisture we did get. So that’s why the importance of getting ahead of it today, while conditions are favourable for us.”
No injuries were reported, Parkland County said.
Crews are still completing a structural assessment, Coleman said, and the county couldn’t confirm if any structures were lost.
There is no word yet on the cause of the fire.
— With files from Karen Bartko and Caley Ramsay, Global News