Fleeing the flames

Amherst native got out of Slave Lake, Alta. just ahead of forest fire

Darrell Cole webcomments@ngnews.ca
Published on May 17, 2011
This home burned to the ground in the town of Slave Lake, Alta., Sunday. A wildfire swept through the town, burning down about one third of the buildings. Amherst native Jillian Eyer thinks her home may have been one of them. Shane O'Brien – Post Media

AMHERST - Jillian Eyer is pretty certain her home is gone, but she's grateful to be out of Slave Lake.


The Amherst native, whose parents David and Janet Arsenault live in Brookdale, fled the northern Alberta community on Sunday, ahead of a forest fire that was bearing down the community.

"I'm 99 per cent sure our house is no longer there. It was directly in the path of the fire. It was in the part of town that was hardest hit," she said. "We've heard of other buildings around our house that have been destroyed.

"We are still in shock but we have our lives and have our family. We have just had tremendous generosity from everyone we've met. I lost my house and all my possessions, but the thing that brings tears to my eyes is how wonderful everyone has been to us out here."

Eyer and her husband, Travis, managed to get their two-year-old daughter, their two dogs and a handful of valuables out before the fire hit their part of Slave Lake.

Eyer said both fires started Saturday around noon. She said people east of town were being evacuated Saturday evening while on Sunday morning people west of the community were evacuated.

While there was no evacuation order for people in the community, she said people started getting out once the power went out on Sunday afternoon and while it was a hectic time it was an orderly exodus from the town.

"They never put an evacuation order out for us. Our power got cut out at 4:30 p.m. At about 6 p.m. the wind shifted very strongly and we knew it was time to go," she said. "The wind was like hurricane force. It reminded me of back home when a tropical storm hit."

The wind, she said, was blowing the fire that was east of town toward the community. The wind was blowing heavy smoke into the community and they felt it would only be a matter of time before the house caught fire.

"We decided to leave. As we were driving out of town the fire actually passed us," she said. "Amazingly everybody was very patient. It was well organized and people were letting other people take their turn."

The Eyers headed west for High Prairie, but got blocked by the fire that was west of town. Eventually the highway to Athabaska was opened and the family spent Sunday night there before making it to Edmonton on Monday, where they are staying with friends.

"The generosity of Athabaska is amazing. People were bringing in things to help us out and were bringing in used clothing, children's toys and food. It's a really good feeling," she said.

Eyers, who graduated from ARHS in 1999, went to university in British Columbia and has been teaching in Slave Lake for about three years.