Fort McMurray residents made tough choices on what to take from home

Many fleeing wildfire-ravaged Fort McMurray had just minutes to make difficult decisions about what special possessions to quickly grab, along with necessities.

Items of sentimental value reflect loved ones remembered, personal accomplishments

Prized possessions: What would you grab with a fire breathing down your neck?

6 years ago
Duration 0:53
Fort McMurray residents Sabrina and Samantha Calder, Barry Pennell tell their story 0:53

Many of the 80,000 people who fled wildfire-ravaged Fort McMurray had just minutes to decide what they would take with them.

If you had to flee your home on such short notice, what would you take, if there was a chance there would be nothing left when you got back?

Would you grab vital documents or fill a bag full of food and water? Would you hold on to cherished photographs and keepsakes or focus on filling your car with camping gear?

Those were questions residents had to answer when an evacuation order was issued Tuesday for the entire Alberta city. Since then, one of the major banks has predicted the destruction could end up costing insurers $9 billion.

Here are some of the men, women and children of the community and the most valued items they took with them.

(Images by Erin Collins/CBC)

​Clothes, medication

Dianne Michaud escaped with just the clothes on her back, but she made sure to grab her friend's medication for her before they left together. Michaud's friend, who uses a wheelchair, is staying in a hotel. Meanwhile, Michaud is at the Lac La Biche shelter looking for fresh clothing for her. She says she's fine to just wash her own.

Whatever was handy

Darcy Steele wasn't sure what he brought with him. The Fort McMurray resident filled two bags with whatever was handy from a spare shirt to some granola bars. Steele isn't sure he will have a home to return to, but is grateful for the help being offered by volunteers.

Good vision a priority

Tony Bevacqua's greatest fear was not being able to see where he was going while escaping the fire. That's why he dashed back behind the blockade to grab his contact lens solution and spare lenses. Bevacqua's says he has bad vision and was worried he would be helpless without his contacts.

Practical packing

Sally Hamlin had a well-organized SUV as she made her dash from Fort McMurray, along with her sister, Shirley Roy.

A cherished pet

The pair take a rest break, with food and water for their brother's dog, Ginger.

Prayer shawls along the way

One of their most cherished items is something they picked up along the way. Both sisters were given hand-knit prayer shawls by a stranger in the tiny community of Wandering River. They say the kindness they have been shown by strangers has been amazing.

Safe route

Barry Pennell leans against the safe that holds essential family documents like mortgages and passports. He wanted to bring items with more sentimental value, but said that with limited time he opted to take what mattered most.

Furry friends

Sabrina Calder made sure to get her cat Sophia, pictured, and dog Taffy out of harm's way before bolting from Fort McMurray.

Sentimental ring

Sabrina Calder also brought her father's old wedding ring along with her, something she had to rush home from work to grab even as her city burned.

Not as sentimental

Jason Pennell made sure to grab proof that his recent divorce had been finalized. He was worried about what might have happened if it disappeared in the fire.

Remembering good cheer

Marina Calder says her cheerleading medals and ribbons were the one thing she couldn't imagine going up in flames. The 17-year old Grade 11 student doesn't know if she'll be cheering on her school's teams anytime soon, or even if her school will be there when she returns to Fort McMurray.

Samantha Calder holds her teddy bear, the one sentimental item she grabbed after filling a bag with essentials like a toothbrush and change of clothes. The bear means more to her than anything, as it was given to her by her late grandfather. (Erin Collins/CBC)


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