Alberta man sings gospel as he watches his home burn in wildfire

Fires have forced more than 10,000 people out of their homes in the northern part of the province

A helicopter drops a bucket of water on the Chuckegg Creek wildfire west of High Level, Alta., in a Saturday, May 25, 2019, handout photo. (CP)

Pudgin Wanuch knew there was nothing he could do as he watched the out-of-control wildfire consume the only home he’d ever known.

So he parked his truck outside the church in the evacuated northern Alberta settlement of Paddle Prairie, pulled out his guitar, sat on the tailgate and sang.

“I knew exactly where my house was,” Wanuch said from a hotel room in Grande Prairie. “I knew my house was gone.

“So I sang some spiritual gospel songs.

“I was praying to God, to give my family and community … to put more faith in ‘em.”

Wanuch’s home — built by his father and brother, flanked by the homemade hockey rink and baseball backstop he’d put up for his kids — was one of several homes in the Metis community destroyed by fire this week.

Fires have forced more than 10,000 people out of their homes in the northern part of the province, with Trout Lake being the latest of more than a dozen communities to stand empty Friday.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Ottawa has granted Alberta’s request for help from the Canadian Forces. The military will help airlift evacuees, transport supplies and provide medical assistance.

The first reports of destruction came from Paddle Prairie, about 70 kilometres south of High Level.

“It’s like a burnt piece of toast up there,” said Blake Desjarlais of the Metis Settlements General Council.

“The whole land has been scorched — traplines destroyed, waterways destroyed, people’s hunting cabins, fishing cabins, livestock assets.”

Desjarlais said that although the community itself was safe as of Friday morning, at least 15 houses on the outskirts and two community structures burned. Bison and cattle ranchers had to turn their animals loose.

Wanuch, 52, fled Paddle Prairie early Thursday morning. The previous day, he’d been checking on things in town with a few neighbours.

“We were right up to the fire, getting horses out of corrals, releasing them, let them be free. Nobody was allowed in, so you couldn’t get horse trailers. All we could do is try to get the horses in the open fields.

“The fire was creating its own weather pattern. You could hear the fire roaring and the winds were circling and blowing and the clouds, you could see them billowing purple, red, white, black.

“I could see my neighbour’s house ignite. It was like hell.”

Across Alberta, there were 29 active fires and 10 were considered out-of-control Friday.

The largest, the Chuckegg Creek fire — the one that claimed Wanuch’s home — had grown to 2,600 square kilometres as of Friday. The same fire forced 4,000 High Level residents out of their homes more than a week ago, and they’re still waiting to return.

People in Slave Lake, a town of 6,500 that was partially destroyed in a 2011 blaze, were told to be prepared to leave with eight hours notice because of a different fire that the mayor said was burning about 30 kilometres away as of Thursday. That fire had grown to 1,800 square kilometres Friday.

— With files from CKRM and The Associated Press

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Survivor compensated for Sixties Scoop

Meraw recently received compensation from the Sixties Scoop Settlement

Interim payments issued to survivors

Interim payments issued for claims made through Collectiva’s Class Action Sixties Scoop Settlement

Advocacy for Secwepemc language

Archie believes Secwepemc language learning can steer First Nation children toward a positive life

Pruden plans to step down

Pruden will not run as an incumbent for the Métis women’s chair during this year’s MNBC election

Sport camps to help youth become better overall athletes

Athletic camps for youth coming to valley this month

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Lawsuit launched after Florida child handcuffed, booked and briefly jailed

Suit alleges “deliberate indifference” to what should have been handled as a behavioural issue

Russia approves vaccine, Putin hopes to begin mass production

Critic calls decision to proceed without thorough testing ‘dangerous and grossly immoral’

Most Read