Fort Mac One Year After ‘The Beast’ Wildfire Raged Through Town
Fort Mac One Year After ‘The Beast’ Wildfire Raged Through Town
By Leora Eisen, director of Into the Fire  

Heading into Fort McMurray one year after a devastating wildfire raged through the city is a strange experience.  I simply don’t know what to expect.

What I find is perhaps summed up best by the mom who stops to chat in a strip mall parking lot. She tells me she marked the anniversary by taking her kids to a picnic on the edge of the blackened and battle-scarred patch of forest across the street.

Fort McMurray in photos, in the year since the wildfires

“My son was crying, saying it’s all gone, everything’s gone,” she explains. “So I took him a little further into the woods to show him where there were green plants sprouting up. I wanted him to see that life goes on.”

Life goes on. In row after row of bulldozed lots where houses once stood, construction crews are hammering away to rebuild entire neighbourhoods.  Yet there are streets where some homes survived, while the houses next door blazed to the ground. 

How can that happen?   What makes one house more resilient than another? I’m here with a camera crew and wildfire management expert Alan Westhaver to find out. Decades ago, he helped create Canada’s FireSmart program, which helps homeowners learn ways to reduce risk on their properties.

Alan Westhaver on the Fort Mac bench that survivedFire expert Alan Westhaver on bench in Fort Mac

Shortly after the evacuation last year, Westhaver walked through block after block in this city while the ground was still smouldering, looking for clues. “There are lessons in the ashes,” he says. 

His favourite spot in Fort Mac is a simple park bench that survived the fire. It sits where it always did, in front of the scorched woods, right across the street from an empty space where people used to live. A place to sit and think about resilience.

To find out what Alan Westhaver discovered in Fort Mac, and much more about the mystery and science of fire, join us next season on The Nature of Things as we head straight “Into The Fire”.

Into the Fire is directed by Leora Eisen for 90th Parallel Productions. Follow Into the Fire on facebook.