We last got to visit for Christmas. Fortunately this year we talked each other into going home. Danielle stayed there for two weeks after, and Jared came home for the two days, and flew back Christmas Day.
Looking back at it now, obviously it's pretty special that we did get to go home for that one when something like this happens.
Danielle's mom always decorated the house for Christmas. There was garland everywhere, and it would all be lit up. You wouldn't even have to use real lights in the house because everything was so lit. That will be continued on, but it will look different. It won't be the same.
The house even had its own smell. Danielle's parents cooked anything and everything. Music played, and when you walked in, you knew exactly where you were. There were family pictures that covered the walls of the two-story home. There were so many memories in that house.
That was the last time we visited Danielle's parent's home in west Edmonton. It was where our son Zach was raised the first two years of his life. Danielle lived there until about four years ago. Summers spent in Edmonton included so many visits to that house. We'd drive over in the morning, and go to the park, and just wait for Danielle's sister to get home, and then we'd hang out with her. We'd spend the days just like we used to.
When you're sitting here at home, you sort of think it could never happen to you. When something like this does happen to you, you can see how easily things can go wrong, and when you least expect. It can be when you're in the happiest mood on a good Mother's Day, and all of a sudden, your world can be turned upside down, just like that.
We were sitting on our porch on Mother's Day a few weeks ago when, the unthinkable happened. The weather was so nice in Minnesota. We were trying to Skype with Danielle's parents. Instead, we ended up talking to Danielle's sister. She was out of breath when she answered. She had just run back to the house from that park a few blocks away, the one that Zach loved so much.
Because we're both from Alberta, we had been following the news surrounding the forest fires that had been raging for weeks.
There are forest fires all the time. That's nothing new. Alberta has always been really dry. We always get this.
"The park is on fire," Danielle's sister said in between panting.
She said that everyone from the neighborhood had walked over to see what was going on, and by that time they had really barricaded the roads so you couldn't drive back. So she had ran back to the house. We're talking, and then all of a sudden we can hear yelling in the background, and we have the kids on Skype with us too, and she just yells, 'The roof is on fire, I gotta go.'
And she hangs up.
That was the last we heard from her for a good half hour. It felt like forever. Danielle is calling everybody in her family: Her parents, her brother, and Zach and our daughter Colbie can't figure out what's going on.
Danielle is shaking and Jared is trying his best to calm her down. We don't know what's actually happening. Then she finally gets a hold of her brother, and he's got this calmness about him; it was so weird. He was just like, 'The roof is on fire; the house is burning down.'
Danielle was was like, 'Our house? Just our house?' And we can't picture what is going on. We just know the park is on fire, but all of a sudden Danielle's house is, but that's three blocks away.
So she asked, 'Is everything on fire?'
And he said, 'No'; the wind had picked up a certain amount of ashes and sparks and it had flown onto our roof, and the house has a cedar shake roof, as do so many houses in the area. So it just lit up, and the one behind it lit up, and the firefighters were all at the park trying to put it out. Alberta right now is so dry. It's to the point where a cigarette butt would start a huge fire.
The 10 minutes immediately after that short Skype call, Danielle's brother said he and their sister, before everyone got there, were on the roof with sprinklers trying to take the fire out, but all the water pressure had been taken out from the firefighters down the street that they had this tiny little sprinkler trying to spray the fire.
By the time they got there, it had gotten pretty extensive, and then they were just trying to contain it, and not let it spread anywhere else for the most part. As we've seen in Fort McMurray it'll go. If you let it, it will light up a whole neighborhood.
That was Mother's Day.
Jared's first visit there was actually pretty funny. He was home, having just finished a season of Juniors at Spokane. He met up with some friends who were going to hang out with Danielle's sister. Not the ideal situation. But Jared and Danielle's father bonded that night; Danielle's brother played hockey growing up, and her father loves the game.
Then, when we started dating, and he came back for another visit, it was like déjà vu. But from the moment Jared stepped foot in that house, he got a sense of the family.
Family will always be family, no matter where it is. Items can be replaced. We were lucky that we didn't lose anyone, just things.
Danielle packed a back and booked a flight to go help out. She left the next morning to go be with her family.
Danielle had already been thinking about how we could help. She had gone onto the Red Cross' website and looked up how to donate. But days and weeks passed, and the tab just sat there. Then it really hit home, and consumed our lives, but getting involved became so much more important.
We weren't sure what the situation was. We knew that we have a house there, and immediately we just said, 'The door is open. Go. Stay.' Because you're thinking, they just lost there home, where are they going to stay immediately? Like right now, where do you go?
That's why it made us start thinking about all those people in Fort McMurray. We have a home, and we had a place for Danielle's family to go to, but these people that get evacuated, they might not have family. Not everyone has a home that's just completely vacant but totally furnished lying around.
That Monday Danielle arrived, and her sister picked her up. She's in the clothes she wore from the fire, so she stinks. She smells so awful. The smoke is just embedded in your skin. Everyone is kind of in the same clothes, and you could tell they did not sleep; not even a little. Danielle is sitting there and she's almost in tears the whole time trying to think, 'What would we have done if we didn't have a place to put them?'
There were lots of friends saying, 'You could stay in our basement,' but you can just imagine the anxiety you're feeling not really knowing where you're going to go, and not seeing a light at the end of that tunnel.
We couldn't actually get into the house after the fire; insurance took over. Danielle thought she'd be removing things. We went. If anything, it was more just support to be there with her parents, and calm them. It was, since Christmas, the first time they were all together. The chances of her brother, and her sister, and her being home at home at the same time is really rare, and they all were, and they were all living in our house. It was just nice. We were all laughing, and we were just reminding each other that this is what's important.
You don't need the house to feel like home, and it's true. Our house felt like home those couple of days. It was a weird feeling, but it felt like our home.
Danielle is sitting on the plane, and she couldn't help but just look outside, and thoughts keep running through your head, and she's like, 'We need to do something.'
There are so many people who need help right now. She could sense what her parents were feeling, and her sister. It's an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling because you've lost everything you know. You're so far out of your comfort zone now that you're grateful that you didn’t lose anything truly important, but you also lost everything you've ever really worked for. Danielle's parents put so much into the house.
Everyone thinks of Fort McMurray as this oil city, and people come, and they work, and they leave. But they don't. It's a city where people have grown up. There are schools, and people live there, and that's their town. They have just lost everything that they've ever known.
Other than thinking about how we could donate, when Danielle got home she had talked about maybe doing some sort of fundraiser. She sent out an email to see how many Wild guys would be available, or still in the cities to help us out. We contacted the Wild hoping they could help us out, and they were more than grateful to do so.
We were lucky that they were able to salvage so much from Danielle's parents home, and that we had somewhere to send them. But for so many people, that's not the case. They have no idea what their current situation is.
You're literally left with whatever you got out immediately, and these people that were evacuated at Fort McMurray, they had a one-to-two hour time to get everything they could. It was a weekday because people were at work, and they had to organize their kids to get out of the city, they had to go home and get their pets, and not knowing if their house would be there when they came back.
Just any way you can donate, if it's coming out Thursday to come have some fun and meet some players, or if you can't come, just finding a way to donate. Everyone is in different circumstances, and may not be connected to it, but we know that if you were in the same type of need, a town like that would do it for you. We're from there, but far away, but the feeling of helping out can make you feel that much better about yourself.
Any little thing can help a family like that who has lost anything, or everything.