First Person Accounts

A message from Denny Garratt.

As a long-time resident, and as a past Council member and Reeve of Lesser Slave River, I have seen a great many things. But I have never before experienced anything to rival the fear, dread and utter devastation that the wildfires of spring 2011 brought to our region.

Ironically, one of my darkest hours as Reeve was also one of my proudest moments. I saw my fellow Councillors and municipal employees work side by side and do their utmost to provide for the safety and comfort of our residents. I saw communities from across the province open their arms to our evacuees and help us douse the flames. I was witness to the best the human spirit has to offer.

Our collective community has been through a great deal in recent months. We've endured wildfires and flooding, and our families and neighbours have faced heartbreaking hardship and staggering losses. Despite these blows, however, we have displayed resiliency, strength, and a positive outlook for which we have become known. We are indeed a "rugged and real" people who have not only weathered the storm, but continue to thrive in our families, our businesses and our communities at large.

As I look back, I have a heart full of gratitude and respect for the tireless efforts of everyone involved in our rescue. And as I look forward, I have no doubt in our ability to recover.

Accounts from Lesser Slave River Locals

During any type of environmental crisis, the very first consideration is people. Stationed at the MD Office and comprised of Councillors and municipal employees, the Emergency Operations Centre stood at the ready to alert residents of the approaching disaster. To those making phone calls or knocking on doors, there was a delicate balance at play: communicate the gravity and convey a sense of urgency, but remain calm and don't allow panic to take root.

Public response tends to vary when faced with something as unprecedented as a natural disaster, and on the weekend of May 14, communities within Lesser Slave River were no different. Some knew it was coming and had already begun to pack. Others doubted that a forest fire would reach their town unchecked. Many were oblivious to the event until they received a phone call from the MD (which by then had turned into the EOC). Before long, however, one only had to look to the sky to appreciate the magnitude of the situation.

Some communities in the paths of the looming fires were put on a two-hour evacuation notice, giving residents time to pack, prepare, steel themselves emotionally and wait. During this time frame, Sustainable Resource Development was working to establish a trigger point; a point at which the fires would become unmanageable and evacuation would become necessary. On Saturday, the first trigger point was reached, and at a second one at noon on Sunday. Each time, affected residents were forced to leave their homes and most of their belongings behind.

Allan Winarski's Story

Chief Administrative Officer

Saturday afternoon I headed to the MD office after learning of the advance of the Grizzly Ridge Fire. Staff and Council started filtering in as the news spread. The worse conditions became, the more staff arrived. About 98 per cent of our people came to help – and stayed until the end. To a person, they were level-headed, efficient and vital to operations. People played interchangeable roles – anything they could do to help. Making arrangements to evacuate, rounding up gas and buses for people stuck in town, trying to confirm details, dealing with emergent issues. Any of the thousands of things that needed to be done.

Vanessa Houston's Story

Rescue Worker, Slave Lake Animal Rescue Committee

The morning after the fires had ravaged Slave Lake and area, ARC members went to work looking for displaced animals. With the help of our local peace officer and a few town employees, we were able to set up a temporary holding facility at the town maintenance building as the location had electricity and other necessary services. Pulling together supplies that ARC already had on hand, we were able to begin our efforts quickly.

Darren Fulmore's Story

Lesser Slave River Councillor

I was informed Sunday, May 15th in the afternoon that an evacuation of the town Slave Lake and surrounding area was underway and that I should give an MD presence in Smith for the evacuees. I was not ready for what awaited me as I rolled into the Hamlet of Smith. There were vehicles everywhere. These people had left with only the gas in their tanks, as the service stations in Slave Lake could not operate without power. Smith is the first community going south that had fuel. Unfortunately, their power was out as well. There were a large number of vehicles that had made it into our community but did not have enough fuel to go on. Fortunately a group of volunteers rounded up a large generator and began wiring it into the service station to get people on their way.

Annette Kay's Story

Lesser Slave River Administrative Assistant

I was called late Saturday afternoon to come into the MD office to help with fire evacuation calls as there was a fire burning south of the Southshore area as well as one east of town in Mitsue. So began the fire adventure of 2011. As I drove towards town it was clear that the fire in Mitsue was of great concern.

MD of Lesser Slave River

Just a few hours due north of Edmonton, Lesser Slave River is a truly unique place to live, work and play. From breathtaking expanses of boreal forest and unspoiled natural wonders to a thriving economy and genuine work/life balance, opportunities abound. Here you'll discover a place of rugged beauty. A place of real people. A place you'll never want to leave.

General Contact Info

 info (@)

Social Connections