Fort McMurray Marks One Year Since Destructive Wildfire

May 3, 2017 Updated: May 3, 2017

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta.—Fort McMurray residents gathered May 3 in a riverfront park for yoga lessons, pancakes, and visits with friends as they marked a year since a fierce wildfire destroyed 10 percent of the city.

The low-key event, which also included dance, art, acupuncture, and meditation, started at dawn and ran until dusk.

The fire started deep in the bush on May 1 of last year and exploded into a ferocious blaze that forced the evacuation of the entire city two days later. It was dubbed “The Beast” because it was so fierce and unpredictable.

Jessica Hetherington and a friend from work braved the early-morning chill to take part in an outdoor yoga class. Hetherington, 34, said she wanted to start a tough day off on a positive note.

“It did what it was supposed to do and I think we’re feeling more relaxed now and ready to have this first anniversary.”

Hetherington, who works in human resources, was pregnant with her first child during the fire. Her son Silas is now eight months old. Her home was not among those destroyed by the fire, but she said the memories are still vivid.

“It hasn’t gone away. It’s still almost as strong as it was when we came back in June,” she said. “Everybody is still talking about it. It’s affected every single one of us in very different ways. The entire year has been very surreal.”

Firefighter Sam Samson, who dropped by the event with a group of friends, said it’s been an emotional year.

“Every time you see something on TV with regards to the fire, it kind of brings back memories,” he said.

His wife, Marlene Gould, said the most stressful aspect of the fire was worrying about Samson.

“That was a big weight on me. There were moments I thought I would never see him again,” she said. “But we got through it. It’s all good. We’re safe, that’s the main thing.”

The majority of Fort McMurray was spared, but the flames consumed about 1,600 structures. That amounted to nearly 2,600 dwelling units, which were mostly residential.

The municipality says that as of April 27, 652 rebuild permits have been approved. As of early April, almost three dozen families had moved into new homes.

From The Canadian Press