By Greg Bennett
The Coast Guard
For a former Shelburne County woman, the disastrous Slave Lake fire has been an experience unlike any other.
Everything that 25-year-old Michelle (Davis) Jefferson owns is gone.
The furniture, clothes, beds, pictures and everything else she and her two young daughters had is a blackened ruin in the wake of a fire that swept through the northern Alberta town on Sunday destroying more than 40 per cent of the town.
Although she hasn’t personally seen the result, fire officials have told her every home on her street was wiped out when the wildfire ripped through the town; fires that were still being battled as residents sought to come to grips with the damage.
The day of disaster began for Michelle as a nice morning of visiting relatives out of town. It was later in the afternoon when frantic phone calls began that relayed the news of the fire.
With her emergency flashers activated she raced towards her home. As she neared Slave Lake, the lines of vehicles evacuating and heading the other direction grew. So did the plume of black smoke in the distance.
About 10 kilometres from home she was stopped by police who would not let her, or any civilians, go any further. The fire was throwing cinders miles into the air causing ditches along the route to burst into flames.
Desperate for news, Michelle would try to return the following day only to be turned back 40 kilometres away by roadblocks.
Her worst fears were confirmed by officials the same day that the rented duplex that she and her two daughters, shared with her sister Nicole and newborn baby was destroyed in some of the earliest moments of the fire.
Like many of the 7,000 residents of Slave Lake, Michelle says much about her future is an unknown now. She’s currently staying with relatives in Alberta.
She did not have tenant’s insurance.
“Everything I worked for was in there,” she said. “I came out here with nothing …now I don’t even know where to begin again.”
Her job at a local restaurant is another question mark; at this point she’s not sure the building even survived the fire.
As she takes stock of everything, the huge losses and the fears of an unknown future, there are some things she remains thankful for.
She is thankful no one has been hurt and that her family is safe. She has also appreciated the many messages of support from friends from the Shelburne area.
Michelle moved out west with her parents James and Rhonda Davis, formerly of Welchtown more than five years ago. She is temporarily staying with her sister Tara (Davis) Guthro.
She is among thousands of Slave Lake residents who are now displaced as a result of the fire.
As hundreds of firefighters from across the western provinces descended on the area, there were more than 100 wildfires burning across the province, Monday night, 36 of which were out of control. Fifteen of those blazes were in the Slave Lake area.