Destroyed Slave Lake radio station turns to internet

A Slave Lake radio station may have burned to the ground, but employees are continuing to keep the town updated with emergency information using the internet.

A Slave Lake radio station may have burned to the ground, but employees are continuing to keep the town updated with emergency information using the internet.

The studio and transmitter of 92.7 Lake FM went up in flames on Sunday evening, when wildfires ripped through the northern Alberta town of 7,000.

Employees are streaming their broadcast on the internet and posting news updates on the station's website and Facebook page. During the evacuation, Courtney Murphy, the station's news director, was also calling into a sister radio station in a nearby town in hopes the broadcast would reach listeners in Slave Lake.
A Lake FM vehicle wasn't damaged, but the fire destroyed the station just steps away. (Courtesy Lake FM )

"In times like these they really need their local media to reassure them, to let them know that everything is going to be OK," she said. "I am from Ontario, but I have grown so attached to this community. I was just concerned about each and every person in Slave Lake and I didn't even have time to think that the place I love and work was burned to ashes."

Station evacuated

Lake FM, which is mostly a music radio station, was providing live news updates between every song before the station's power, which had been flickering on and off, was finally cut off on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

"It was just tremendous to see ashes flying everywhere, big huge pieces of trees just flying across the street. The studio was shaking because the winds were so high," she recalled.

Shortly after the power cut out, she got a call from a provincial official informing her to evacuate the building. The staff fled to a ball diamond about a block away, where families were huddled in their cars.

"I love technology nowadays. It's a magical thing. I have an iPhone and I was updating our Facebook page and I was also calling one of my bosses in Edson, at the Eagle [radio station], and giving him updates and he was putting them on our website and our Facebook page," she recalled. 

By 10 p.m. Murphy got a call from a friend telling her Lake FM had burned to the ground.

"She said the station was nothing but ashes."

Station has RV ready

Around 11:30 p.m. Murphy learned the town had to be evacuated.

Although she and her colleagues are operating out of a temporary studio at a sister station in the town of Edson, they have a RV on standby and hope to return to Slave Lake soon.

"We have our RV set up with equipment in it and we are getting ready to move to Slave Lake as soon as we get the go ahead. We are going to park our RV and we are going to be doing everything we can from there," she said.

Murphy said it's important to her that accurate information gets out to displaced residents.

"Residents are just a mess and these rumours certainly don't help."  

Murphy said her current home is standing, as far as she knows, but the home she moved out of a week ago has burned to the ground.

Slave Lake's mayor, Karina Pillay-Kinnee, said Tuesday residents may not be able to return to the town for at least a week, possibly two. Fire fighters said the wildfires were under control in the town, where an estimated 40 per cent of the homes and buildings have been destroyed.