Evacuating Fort McMurray came as a surprise for the Brunet family, and so was their baby daughter's arrival a day later. 

Monique Brunet was cooking banana bread and spaghetti for dinner May 3 when people started to voluntarily evacuate from certain areas of the city. She had the radio on, and her husband, Matt, was anxiously pacing the floor.

"He's like, 'Do you think that they're maybe evacuating different sections just so everyone's not cramming out at once?' And I'm thinking in my head, 'This is not going to happen to us. I'm going to continue making supper, everything's going to be fine,' " Brunet said.

Within hours, she had a suitcase packed with a couple changes of clothes and family pictures. Along with their two-year-old son, Benson, the family left their Timberlea home that evening.

'I'm panicking again, like we can't have her here, we're not ready, this is not part of the plan. We can't have a newborn on top of this.' - Monique Brunet

First, they tried going north, but with more than 90,000 people evacuating at the same time, the highway was gridlocked. After two hours, they turned around and went south. They arrived in Athabasca around midnight.

That's when she first felt what she thought were false contractions.

The next morning, when they arrived at a friend's house in Edmonton, the contractions were much more intense, and the family left for the Grey Nun's Hospital.

Unexpected arrival

"I thought, 'Oh my god, this is not real, is it?' We had nothing for the baby, we weren't expecting her to come. She was four weeks and two days away from her due date," Brunet said. 

"I'm panicking again, like we can't have her here, we're not ready, this is not part of the plan. We can't have a newborn on top of this."

Little Brielle Monique Brunet arrived around 10:30 p.m. on May 4.

Brunet said the family wanted to give tribute to the firefighters working to save their city. Besides, she said, the baby girl probably wouldn't have come so early had it not been for the stress of the evacuation. 

'I just thought it would be a neat way to incorporate the fire and the firefighters. They're heroes to us, and she's like our bundle of joy that came out of all this.' - Monique Brunet

They found a photographer in Gibbons who surprised them with a firefighter's uniform. Her husband wore it during the shoot, with Brielle nestled in the helmet. 

Brunet's mother-in-law urged her to share the photo on Facebook, so the firefighters in Fort McMurray might see something positive that came from the fire. 

"I just thought it would be a neat way to incorporate the fire and the firefighters," Brunet said. "They're heroes to us, and she's like our bundle of joy that came out of all this."

After a short stint in the hospital to treat her jaundice, baby Brielle is happy and healthy. The family is currently staying in an apartment in Beaumont, and looking for something more spacious while they wait weeks or months to return to Fort McMurray, where they believe their home escaped the fire.

"It hasn't been easy, but she's doing good now," Brunet said.

"We could have it worse. People have lost their homes. We're really really grateful ... she's our bundle of joy, for sure."

Brunet family

Matt and Monique Brunet, their newborn, Brielle and two-year-old son, Benson, lived in Beaumont while they waited to return home to Fort McMurray. (Supplied/Evie Rose Photography)