B.C. wildfires, evacuations don't stop Yellowknife couple from welcoming 1st child

Amidst evacuations and chaos as wildfires rage in northern B.C., one couple — and their new addition — has ample reason to celebrate.

The couple was evacuated from hospital just hours after their daughter was born

Sheldon Peart and Amber Jeannotte sit with their new daughter, Ava Rose Peart. Ava was born in Williams Lake, B.C., while wildfires were raging. Mere hours after she was born, the parents were informed that they would have to leave town immediately. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Amidst evacuations and chaos as wildfires rage in northern B.C., one couple — originally from Yellowknife — has ample reason to celebrate.

Sheldon Peart and Amber Jeannotte grew up in Yellowknife, but moved to the small town of Williams Lake, B.C., a few years ago. The town, beset by wildfires, issued an evacuation order on July 15, with the hospital clearing out days earlier.

That would have been fine for the young couple, who say their house is in the centre of town and isn't in danger, if not for one thing: Jeannotte was pregnant and, by early July, she was already a couple of days late.

"We went in a couple of days before to ask what the protocol was going to be once I went into labour," said Jeannotte. "And they really didn't know, they didn't have an answer for us.

"I was kind of debating leaving town because I did not want to give birth on the road."

However, her doctor advised against leaving, saying she would ride in an ambulance with Jeannotte if the city was forced to evacuate. The couple made the decision: they were in it for the long haul.

'It kind of made everything go away'

By the time Jeannotte went into labour, the hospital had been evacuated. She had contractions at home for two days before heading into the emergency room — the only area of the hospital still staffed. A small maternity ward had been moved to accommodate new mothers.

"We were kind of in a makeshift room they had," she said. "It was kind of eerie, because it was pretty empty. There wasn't much, there wasn't any doctors."

Concerned about the encroaching wildfires, Jeannotte's doctor chose to speed up her labour with an epidural and oxytocin. It was the couple's first pregnancy, which Peart says may have been a blessing in disguise.

"We don't know any different, so it was fine," said the new dad.

"There were a lot of unknowns. They didn't really have any concrete answers on what the procedures were when [the hospital] was evacuated, what is expected of us... there was a lot of uncertainty."

However, despite it all, at 12:30 a.m. on July 10, Ava Rose Peart was brought into the world, weighing a healthy seven pounds, 15 ounces.

"It kind of made everything go away," said Jeannotte. "She's healthy. It's not that bad of a situation when everything turns out."

'It's... an overwhelming feeling,' said Jeannotte. 'You can't believe how much you love this little human.' (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Ambulance ride to safety

The feeling of calm didn't last long, though: Jeannotte and Peart were informed that they would have to leave town immediately. Jeannotte and Ava were loaded into an ambulance, with Peart heading home to pack bags and follow behind.

"They basically put me in a stretcher, and then off we were," said Jeannotte. "They put Ava in a car seat and she was facing away from me, and I was strapped in, so I couldn't move.

"I could hear her crying."

Originally, the plan was for the family to head to Quesnel — about an hour from Williams Lake — but after finding out the maternity ward was full, they continued on to the community of Prince George.

There was still time for a stop in Quesnel though, where nurses helped Jeannotte —  talking her through new motherhood and teaching her to breastfeed — and where hospital staff made little Ava a celebrity.

"It was kind of viewed as a bit of a unique case, because she was strapped into her seat and thrown into an ambulance an hour, hour and a half after birth," said Peart. 

"At one point... I didn't even know where she was, because the paramedics were taking her around the hospital," Jeannotte said. "Everyone was holding her and taking pictures with her.

"It was crazy, but it was kind of an amazing experience at the same time."

The new family is currently in Yellowknife, but plan to return to Williams Lake once conditions improve. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

The new family is currently in Yellowknife, and have also stayed with relatives in Edmonton, while they wait out the fire. Peart said he may return to Williams Lake before Amber and Ava, to begin work.

For now, though, they'll be satisfied with a little stability — and a chance to get to know their new addition.

"It's definitely an overwhelming feeling," said Jeannotte. "It feels amazing. You can't believe how much you love this little human."

With files from Loren McGinnis