High Level evacuees flee town with baby, dachshunds and grandfather's ashes

Last week, as a massive wildfire threatened the town of High Level, Alta., Dave Lubbers and his wife Natalia Schwarz packed their seven-month-old daughter, their two dachsunds, and a few precious belongings into their Honda Civic.

For displaced High Level family, 'the hardest part is the unknown'

Natalia Schwarz, Dave Lubbers and seven-month old Sofia had to flee their home in High Level due to the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire. (Natalia Schwarz)

For High Level wildfire evacuee Dave Lubbers, the uncertainty is the worst part.   

Last week, as a massive wildfire threatened the town of High Level, Alta., Lubbers and his wife Natalia Schwarz packed their seven-month-old daughter, their two dachshunds and a few precious belongings into their Honda Civic.

"We don't know when we'll go back," Lubbers said in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Monday. "We don't know what will be there when we do go back."

Lubbers said when faced with an evacuation order the family knew they needed to pack up and leave quickly. 

"I have a pretty small car so we couldn't really bring much with us," said Lubbers. "My wife and I just kind of walked around the house and said, 'OK, well what are the things that are most important, that we can't replace?' And we each got to fill a box and went from there."

Lubbers grabbed his grandfather's ashes and some old family photos, while Schwarz grabbed important documents.

A week late, the 127,000-hectare Chuckegg Creek fire is still threatening High Level, and dry and windy conditions continue to challenge firefighters battling the blaze.

But for now, the family is safe in High Prairie.

Lubbers, who was exposed to wildfires while living in the Okanagan in B.C., knew to get prepared before the evacuation order was made.

Three days before, he made sure their car was full of gas and packed a bag. 

The Chuckegg Creek fire approaches the Schwarz Lubbers family home in High Level days before the evacuation. (Natalia Schwarz)

The family spent a day in Slave Lake and then made their way to High Prairie, where friends have housed them.

Lubbers said he's been stunned by the outpouring of help and support for the evacuees in Slave Lake and High Prairie.

"I am really, really touched," said Lubbers. "They have just bent over backwards to help out in any way they can. They've been amazing."

Lubbers said one nurse brought a baby nose cleaner, which the family had forgotten at home for seven-month-old Sofia.

The dogs are doing well, too.

"The people we're staying with here in High Prairie have dogs as well so they joined a little pack here," said Lubbers.   

Residents were originally told to prepare to be away from home for 72 hours, but more than a week later, when they will be able to return is still unknown.  

"And for my wife and I the hardest part is the unknown," said Lubbers. "We just don't know what anything is going to look like right now or am I gonna be back at work next week?"

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Rod Kurtz


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.