Rita Stacey and children safe after escaping the Slave Lake fire

By David F. Rooney

Former Revelstoke resident Rita Stacey and her daughters are safe and sound in Spruce Grove, Alta., after being evacuated from Slave Lake, the northern Alberta town that was partially destroyed by a forest fire on Sunday.

“Well, we’re alive,” she said in an interview from the motel where she and daughters Erica and Katie have ended up after the town was evacuated. Her mother, Brigitte Ortwein, was visiting the family when the flames swept across the town’s boundary. Ten thousand people living in the area were evacuated.

“The Mounties were basically going door-to-door telling people to evacuate. I’m one of the few who still has a house standing. Most of my friends and associates lost theirs. I really want people in Revelstoke to know that we are safe.”

About one-third of the town was burned out and Stacey said whole neighbourhoods were incinerated. The downtown business section of the town, which at 7,031 residents is almost the same size as Revelstoke, was also partially destroyed. The fire was capricious, destroying some structures such as an auto dealership, the town hall and other businesses but leaving some standing.

“We had some very heavy winds and a power line south of the city went down,” she said. “I guess there was a spark and that started the forest fire. It’s going to take a long time — years — to rebuild the town. It all depends on how quickly insurance claims can be settled and people can start rebuilding.”

Meanwhile, “everyone has been wonderful to us,” Stacey said.

Insurance companies have established mobile claims offices, Telus offered free long distance calling to every resident, and hotels and motels in Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Athabaska and other centres. As well, cots for thousands of people were set up at the Athabaska Sportsplex and the Edmonton Expo.