Edmonton

'Something good can happen': Fort McMurray firefighter proposes marriage amidst flames

In the midst of a city-wide tragedy in Fort McMurray, surrounded by smoke and uncertainty, two firefighters found a reason to celebrate.

'I said, 'I will find you. I will do anything I can to find you.' '

Danielle Deslauriers and Kyle Beckley, just moments after the two found each other at MacDonald Island and Beckley proposed. (Danielle Deslauriers)

In a city on fire, after countless hours on the job, firefighters Danielle Deslauriers and Kyle Beckley found each other at MacDonald Island.

And right there, in the parking lot, they created some joy in the midst of so much sorrow.

The couple had not seen each other in two days, not since Tuesday, when the evacuation order was issued for Abasand and Beckley, a Fort McMurray firefighter, was called in to work.

We said goodbye and I looked at him, thinking, 'I have no idea when the next time is I'm going to see you.' - Firefighter Danielle Deslauriers

Earlier that morning, Deslauriers remembers seeing a little haze in the sky but nothing alarming. Conditions began to change quickly while she and Beckley took their dog out for a walk. The temperature was 24 C and the humidex just below 30 per cent — a red flag for those trained to read the signs, Deslauriers said.

"It's called 'crossovers,' " Deslauriers said. "In firefighting, once the humidity meets the temperature outside, that's when anything can pretty much start on fire.

"We looked at each other and were like, 'We need to go home, now.' "

The hardest thing

At home, both started packing their bags, with Beckley passing his off to Deslauriers, who was going to try to get south of the city.

"We said goodbye and I looked at him, thinking, 'I have no idea when the next time is I'm going to see you,' " Deslauriers remembers, her voice breaking.

"He left to go do what he had to do, and I knew what he had to do — but it was the hardest thing in my relationship to do."

Deslauriers took this photo of her backyard just before 'all hell broke loose.' (Danielle Deslauriers)

"So, he leaves, and then I'm running around in circles at home. I packed (for) the dog better than I packed myself," she said. "Being a firefighter, I should know better, but there's still panic coming through me that I need to get out, I need to leave with the dog."

By the time she was ready to leave, the highway to the south had closed. Deslauriers had no choice but to go north, to Wapasu Camp, where she normally stays while at work.

I will absolutely do anything for you if you can get me south into the city.- Danielle Deslauriers

Almost immediately after arriving, Deslauriers began trying to figure out how to get back to Fort McMurray. On Thursday morning, desperate, she called her boss to beg for a lift back into the city.

"I said, 'I will absolutely do anything for you if you can get me south into the city.' Without hesitation, my operations manager drove up north, picked me up in an ambulance with my dog and some stuff, and we got right back into town."

Deslauriers took this photo of the couple's dog Ramsey after fleeing north of the city. A huge cloud of smoke is visible above the city. (Danielle Deslauriers)

Deslauriers didn't tell Beckley she was trying to come back into the city until she had dropped the dog off at Fire Hall No. 4 and she was free to get back to work. Her first job: to go pick up supplies at MacDonald Island.

When she arrived, she called Beckley to find out where he was. He was already there.

'He wouldn't let me go'

Deslauriers started pacing the parking lot, looking anxiously around for Beckley, not sure which direction he would come from.

Then she spotted him.

"He is running across the parking lot in his bunker pants and work shirt. And I remember thinking to myself, 'Am I supposed to be running, too? Why is he running at me?'

"He grabs me and he hugs me and he holds me — and this is a guy that's running off maybe … six hours of sleep in the last how many days since it all started.

And this is when you're going to ask me to marry you, right?- Danielle Deslauriers

"I hug him back and I joke, 'And this is when you're going to ask me to marry you, right?'

"And he laughed and said, 'Yeah. Will you marry me?' He just held me, he wouldn't let me go."

Beckley then revealed he had already bought a ring, but hadn't yet had time to pick it up from the jewellers.

She said yes, in case anyone was wondering. 

"I just found it ironic that we're both firefighters in our work uniforms and there's a disaster going on around us and it happened that way."

'Something good can happen'

At first, the couple felt hesitant to share their good news.

"We didn't really want to tell anyone at first, because a lot of the department members had lost their homes," Deslauriers said. 

But when word started trickling out, one of Deslauriers' colleagues approached her. "She was like, 'You need to tell somebody. There has to be something positive.' " 

Deslauriers followed instructions and said the response has been universally positive.

"So many happy people," Deslauriers said through tears. "A lot of happy people that something good can happen."

Things are slowing down at last in Fort McMurray. Now, it just feels surreal, she said.

I will do anything I can to find you.- Danielle Deslauriers

Deslauriers plans to finally head south out of Fort McMurray on Tuesday. She has about 10 days of leave to use before she's needed up north again. Beckley will join her on Thursday, she said.

Neither knows when they will be allowed to return home. But for now, at least, they know they have a home to return to. By coincidence, Beckley himself was sent to their street twice to battle back the flames.

As for wedding plans, the only thing they know for sure: the wedding will be in Fort McMurray, probably in a few months.

Maybe even at MacDonald Island.

"Kyle and I always had the discussion when we moved up here, that if there was ever an emergency that happened and we had to go separate ways, that it would be his absolute worst nightmare if I was up (north) and he was in town and something bad happened. And that's exactly what happened."

"We wouldn't be able to find each other."

"I found a way. I said, 'I will find you. I will do anything I can to find you.' "

Deslauriers and Beckely, in calmer times, pose with Ramsey. The couple hopes to wed in Fort McMurray within the next four or five months. (Danielle Deslauriers)

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