Out of the Ashes: Reflections from Slave Lake

Life changed for thousands of people that warm windy day in May. Wildfires ripped through the community, three hours north of Edmonton, leveling a third of the town. A dozen people reflect on their experiences.

Posted: May 14, 2012

Paul Clarke & Tyler Hobbs
Karina Pillay-Kinnee
Remona Guillon
Courtney Murphy
Jamie Coutts
Ryan Coutts
Jonathan Allen
Dave and Brenda Derkoch
Doug Babiy
Trish Dombrosky
Ken Giblin
Dwayne & Trina Vercholuk

Firefighters Paul Clarke and Tyler Hobbs put out hotspots in a field near Slave Lake. This is a prescribed burn. Fire fighters setting fuel a blaze in a controlled way to prevent a wildfire from threatening the town again. Today they're working in a muddy bog.

Karina Pillay-Kinnee is the mayor of the town of Slave Lake. On May 20, 2011, a firefighting helicopter crashed into the Lesser Slave Lake near Canyon Creek. The pilot, 54 year old Jean-Luc Deba, died at the scene. The chopper crashed about 30 m (98 ft) off shore into water that was 1.5 m (4.9 ft) deep. His was the only death connected to the disaster.

Remona Gullion is a 36 year old mother of 2 (16 and 12). She works in the parts department at Slave Lake Ford. The Gullions lost their home in the fire. One of the first families to rebuild they were in their new place around Christmas time 2011.

Courtney Murphy is the 28 year old news director of Lake FM. The Slave Lake radio station burnt to the ground. After that Murphy continued to broadcast from her car trying to warn people of the disaster.

Jamie Coutts is the Fire Chief of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service. Because of the fire the service now has 18 new pieces of gear. He's hoping the one point eight million dollar investment will help safeguard the town against a repeat of the 2011 fires.

Ryan Coutts is Jamie's 16 year old son. He's been coming to the fire station since he was two. And now he's part of a high school apprentice program to train as a fire service mechanic. Ryan fought the Slave Lake fires along side his dad in 2011.

Jonathan Allen is a 28 year old construction worker. He moved from his home in Murray Corner, New Brunswick for the work in Slave Lake. He's one of hundreds of trades people taking part in the rebuild. The town has issued 209 development permits for reconstruction in the past year — most of those are for new homes.

Dave and Brenda Derkosh and their two children lost their home. They're rebuilding and are hoping to be in their new place by September. They've notice a divide in their community between the people who were burnt out and those that weren't.

Doug Babiy is the dealer at Slave Lake Ford. Two thirds of the cars on his lot were destroyed in the fire. A number of his employees lost their homes. He struggles to help people in his community to come to terms with the disaster a year later.

Trish Dombrosky is a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. She's also the financial services manager at Slave Lake Ford. She and her two sisters all lived on the same street. And they all lost their homes in the fire. You can see the old house they lost. And the new one they're are building now.

73 year old Ken Giblin owns Century 21 in Slave Lake. He lost his home, four houses he was renting, and his business in the fire. He wonders about starting over in Slave Lake at his age.

Dwayne and Trina Vercholuk and their two girls lost their home in the fire. These life long Slave Lakers and high school sweet hearts are now rebuilding. Hoping they can move past what they've lost to start a new life together.

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