'A vicious roller-coaster': N.W.T. couple describes emotional return to Fort McMurray

Sue and Tom Clarke returned to their home in Fort McMurray this past weekend. Their house is fine, but it's not clear when or if they'll ever be able to move back in.

Tom and Sue Clarke's home is in good shape, but it's not clear if they'll ever be able to move back in

‘We decided that, we needed to make some kind of statement,' says Sue Clarke. The Clarkes put up a sign and turned on the Christmas lights, to show that their house is a home. (submitted by Tom and Sue Clarke)

Sue Clarke says it's been a "vicious" roller-coaster returning to Fort McMurray this week. And she doesn't like roller-coasters.

Sue and her husband Tom are originally from Fort Smith, N.W.T., but raised their family in Fort McMurray. They were forced from their home during the wildfire weeks ago, in a terrifying escape from the Beacon Hill subdivision.

"The feeling was just overwhelming," Sue says of returning to their home this past weekend.

"It was miraculous, but yet terrifying all at the same moment.

"Just the devastation around us and my heart breaking for those who did lose everything, but yet still being ecstatic that my house was still standing."

The Clarke home is in good shape — the fridge and freezer were stinking with rotten food, but Tom says there isn't one sign of smoke or ash. Yet they're still not allowed to move back in.

"The city hasn't been too open to letting us know what's going on, so that's probably the most frustrating part," Tom says.

He says he was at the doctor on Monday, because of the stress.

"Not knowing what to do, where to go, is very stressful," he said. "It's been totally difficult."

Tom says they've been fortunate, staying with friends from the N.W.T., but he wonders how people who have to pay their mortgage and rent for temporary housing, are coping.

'We had a nice gentleman from Red Cross stop by. We fed him, we had a good talk with him,' says Tom Clarke, with volunteer Stephen Read, and Sue Clarke. (submitted by Tom and Sue Clarke)

A bright side

Sue says people from Fort McMurray have come together on social media, creating groups to support each other. There's also been rumour mills and "negative Nellies," but she's trying to stay positive.

"I'll admit that I'm not always the most social person and didn't really know a whole lot of people in our neighbourhood, but I'm slowly getting to know them and I know there's going to be some long-lasting friendships."

The Clarkes also point to the support people in Fort McMurray have received from across Canada, especially from smaller communities.

"It's just phenomenal," Sue said, her voice breaking with sobs.

"You feel like you're a burden sometimes, but you're just trying hard to keep it together."

What's next

Tom says the city is holding a public meeting tonight, where they hope they'll get more answers and can come up with a "game plan."

"We're hopeful but we just don't know at this point, we're kind of feeling like gypsies right now, just moving around."

For now, the Clarkes are trying to get back to some kind of normalcy. This weekend Sue weeded the garden where they were married last year, Tom cut the grass, and they had a barbeque at their home. But the future is still up in the air.

"There's still raw emotion and not knowing what the outcome will be," Sue says.

"It was nice to just have my feet in my house."

With files from Loren McGinnis