As It Happens

First fires, now flooding: Former Fort McMurray MLA Brian Jean suffers loss of 2nd home

Almost four years to the day after losing his Fort McMurray home to wildfires, Brian Jean is reliving tragedy as his new house was destroyed once again, this time by flooding, he told As It Happens.    

‘Truly, this is the flood of a lifetime,’ says Jean, after losing 2 homes in 4 years

An arial image of Brian Jean's flooded house. (Brian Jean/Supplied)
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Transcript

Almost four years to the day after losing his Fort McMurray home to wildfires, Brian Jean is reliving tragedy as his new house was destroyed once again, this time by flooding.    

The former Wildrose Party leader and former Alberta MLA told As It Happens host Carol Off that he was "devastated" at the loss, but given the circumstances, he was "doing fine."

"I'm very happy that everybody is healthy and alive and nobody seems to be hurt at this stage. It's just property damage and all of these things can be replaced.

"I've just been trying to board up the window wells and pump water out of the basement. We're right on the fringe of the water right now and have been for probably the last 48 hours."

Jean said he and his family have been temporarily living in his mother's home following her death last year while awaiting the construction of their replacement house. However, when things "started to look scary," his wife, who recently gave birth to their baby girl, left for Edmonton. 

On Sunday, the Fort McMurray area was inundated with flood waters as a result of spring ice breakups on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. About 12,000 residents have since been evacuated from the community.  

In 2016, Jean lost his first home on the same site after wildfires swept through the Fort McMurray area. (Brian Jean/Supplied)

"The river is jammed up for about 25 kilometres, and unfortunately then there is another 10-kilometre jam further up from that," Environment Minister Jason Nixon said, as he and the province's premier Jason Kenney toured the evacuation zone Monday both by helicopter and on the ground.  

'No physical tool' to stop ice jam

Nixon said all government officials can do is wait for the ice jam to thaw. 

"At this point, the ice jam is so big, there is really no physical tool that we have to stop it so we just have to continue to try to protect the town and property as much as we can and wait for Mother Nature to do its job," Nixon said. 

"Pretty much 95 per cent" of the downstairs floor of Jean's new home had been finished when the flooding started, Jean said, adding that the drywalling was put up about a week ago and had only just received a fresh coat of paint. 

Fort McMurray resident Joseph Enverga took to the submerged streets to capture the extent of the flooding. 0:50

"Right now, that finished part is the part that's completely under water, along with many of my personal memories, my wife's personal memories." 

Many of those items lost in the flooding were all that had been spared after Jean's previous home was engulfed by the massive wildfires which tore through the community in 2016, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta's history, with more than 88,000 people being forced to leave their homes. 

"What is upsetting me [is] I'd lost most of my things in the fire. But truly, I lost the most important thing to me before the fire, which was my son about just a year before."

Jean's son, Michael, died in March 2015 at the age of 24 after health complications in hospital.

'I certainly didn't expect it to flood here'

One treasure that has so far been spared from the flooding is Jean's wife's piano which had been replaced after being lost in the fires, he said. 

"That's why I'm pumping water into the basement right now, because it's still not damaged."   

Jean said despite the efforts to make the area more resistant to ice jams and flooding, "the truth is that Mother Nature and God are in control. You know, we can try to do our best to put roadblocks up, but ultimately, the water is going to go where it wants to go." 

More than 12,000 people have been forced to flee their homes after the area was inundated with flood waters as a result of spring ice breakups on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. (Brian Jean/Supplied)

However, Jean said despite the flooding he was "not prepared to change" where he lives, adding that anyone living near rivers or frozen water in Canada faces the same risks. 

"I want to be close to water. I want to be close to beautiful views, close to nature. But certainly, in this particular case, I didn't think it was a real risk because it had never happened before. I certainly didn't expect it to flood here."  

"This is the highest it's ever been for me. Truly, this is the flood of a lifetime."


Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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