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

Alberta RCMP offers tips for water safety this summer

Since 2016, 57 people have drowned in Alberta

‘Alberta Long Ears’ in Stettler Aug. 10th-11th.

Established in 1989, the Alberta Donkey & Mule Club is an offshoot of the national organization

Communities in Bloom judges check out Stettler’s finest features

National and International results will be announced in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in September

Buccaneers pillage Irish 36-0

Central Alberta bounces back after off week against Wolfpack

Alberta Prairie Railways marks 30 unforgettable in the biz

Tickets purchased this year go to a special ‘luxury’ train ride for 30 guests

VIDEO: Calgary, Flames agree to terms on new NHL arena

The proposed 19,000-seat facility would replace the Saddledome at an estimated cost of $550 million

Weather Network’s anti-meat video ‘doesn’t reflect true story’: cattle ranchers

At issue is the video’s suggestion that cutting back on meat consumption could help save the planet

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

Alberta ahead of average tornado count at 17 so far this year

The province’s average over the past 30 years has been 12 tornadoes per year

The Beaverton’s sharp satire thrives in polarized political climate

Canadian TV series’ third season to air Tuesday on CTV after “The Amazing Race Canada”

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Sexual assaults, extortion on the rise even as crime rates stay low: Stats Canada

Rates of police-reported sexual assault rose for the fourth year in a row

A year later, ceremony commemorates victims of the Danforth shooting

It’s the one-year anniversary of when a man opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Most Read