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'It was almost post-apocalyptic': High Level wildfire evacuees regroup in Slave Lake

 Some of the 4000 High Level evacuees from the Chuckegg Creek fire, like Mathew Blaney and Courtanne Bolduc loading up possessions which they managed to get from there homes in the parking lot of the Legacy Centre where evacuees are registering in Slave Lake, May 21, 2019.
Some of the 4000 High Level evacuees from the Chuckegg Creek fire, like Mathew Blaney and Courtanne Biodiversity loading up possessions which they managed to get from there homes in the parking lot of the Legacy Centre where evacuees are registering in Slave Lake, May 21, 2019. - Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

Entering Slave Lake from Highway 2, the roadway has numerous blackened trees sticking out among the new green growth. It’s a stark reminder that just eight years ago, the northern town had to evacuate due to an encroaching, out of control wildfire.

Old memories and feelings are resurfacing again as the town now is helping hundreds of evacuees from High Level, about five hours north of Slave Lake, due to a wildfire that’s threatening their town.

Tyler Warman, Slave Lake’s mayor said he got the call on Monday that the town would stage an evacuation centre to help the residents coming from High Level.

“We saw a real influx of activity last night well into early morning,” said Warman.

“We’re starting to see more people come in, who may have stayed along the route last night and are now making it a little bit further.”

Evacuees have been put up in about 200 hotel rooms and some are also staying in camping areas. Warman said the town’s experience in 2011 has helped them this time around.

“We learned a lot about emergencies and we’ve practised a lot for these types of events,” said Warman.

“We mobilized our teams right away, there were kits put together already, we’ve trained all our staff before so it’s definitely a lot of hard work, for sure, but it went really, really smooth.”

An Airspray water bomber along with other fire fighting aircraft lined up on the tarmac, prepares for take-off from the airport in Slave Lake as some 4000 High Level residence have been evacuated from the Chuckegg Creek fire, May 21, 2019. - Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
An Airspray water bomber along with other fire fighting aircraft lined up on the tarmac, prepares for take-off from the airport in Slave Lake as some 4000 High Level residence have been evacuated from the Chuckegg Creek fire, May 21, 2019. - Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

‘ It looked pretty eerie in town’

Twenty-six-year-old Courtanne Biodiversity and her three friends, Mathew Blaney, 23, Ben Bellamy, 26, and William Taylor, 25, were outside the Legacy Centre, where a reception centre has been set up for High Level evacuees.

Biodiversity said they were all camping near Slave Lake for the May Long weekend when they got word that High Level was under evacuation.

They drove back to gather their important personal belongings only to turn around and leave again back to Slave Lake.

Biodiversity said they had to do a lot of calculating for how many kilometres they could drive because there was no electricity.

“We couldn’t fill up the tanks because there was no electricity for the pumps,” said Blaney.

“It looked pretty eerie in town, too. There was a lot of people with all their belongings in their trucks and a bunch of cops and firefighters everywhere.”

While they didn’t see the raging fire, there was a lot of smoke.

“It was almost post-apocalyptic. There was nothing. Everyone’s cars were all parked everywhere, it was like, what was going on?” said Biodiversity.

The group is now splitting up, heading separate ways to stay with people they know either in Slave Lake or in other nearby areas.

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ajunker@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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