Her fish died, her house stinks, but this Fort McMurray woman is smiling

Like many of the 15,000 people returning to Fort McMurray on the first day of re-entry after a month away, Arseneth Baron says it feels like her home — and her life — have been frozen in time.

'We support Fort McMurray,' banner says as people return to hard-hit Alberta city

Arseneth Baron moved to Fort McMurray from the Philippines in 2008. (CBC)

The smell hits her first. Sour and thick.

It comes from the plate of fried meat left unfinished on her kitchen table, from rice growing mould in the pot on the counter, from the fridge she has been told not to open.

Arseneth Baron has been away for a month. Like many of the 15,000 people returning today on the first day of re-entry, she says it feels like her home — and her life — have been frozen in time since then.

There were no leaves on the branches outside her kitchen window when she left. She's surprised to see the mass of green out there now.

In the living room, one of her fish floats dead as the aquarium hums. Children's toys are scattered on the floor.

Down the hall, clothes, supplies and a teddy bear sit in piles on her bed. Seeing it all reminds her of the panic she felt on evacuation day.

Firefighters raise flags to welcome back Fort McMurray residents

7 years ago
Duration 0:52
Firefighters raise flags to welcome back Fort McMurray residents
Baron didn't realize she was supposed to leave her downtown home until a neighbour came to let her know. Her five roommates were still on shift in the oilsands, so she packed up the house by herself.

The suitcases had some things she really didn't need — like winter clothes.

And they were missing things she desperately wished for later — like her passport.

Without the right ID, Baron had to cancel a trip home to the Philippines planned for May 10.

Just another life interruption, in a town now in the throes of restarting.

'Welcome home'

Catchy, uplifting slogans now shout from billboards, lawn signs, and banners across town.

"Thank you for being resilient," "YMMstrong," "together we can rebuild."

To crown them all, firefighters lined up atop the main overpass into town as people started returning.

"We support Fort McMurray," read the banner below them. The town flag fluttered above.

Fort McMurray couple finds laughs amid spoiled food, plants flowers

7 years ago
Duration 2:13
Rob and Nicole Anderson returned home to Fort McMurray today to find several fridges and an entire freezer trailer full of spoiled food. Still, their relief to be home is obvious - and they're already planting flowers.

"It's so good to have all these people back," says Jim Levay, a firefighter mechanic who pulled his truck over to take a picture.

The streets were empty at 5 a.m. But a couple of hours later, traffic was building.

"Two weeks ago, this place was a ghost town. It's emotional to see this now."

Back in her strangely silent house, Arseneth Baron is emotional too.

She worries her rent may go up, with so many people seeking housing. She doesn't know if she and her sister can afford to still live there.

But she won't let herself think about that quite yet. 

Right now, she will wipe her counters. She will get a cleaning kit from the information centre, and start the work of unfreezing time.

She is YMMstrong.

In another neighbourhood, a homemade welcome sign is less fancy, but heartfelt. (Marion Warnica/CBC)