News / Calgary

Fiery ride stokes flashbacks for Fort McMurray teen

Jade Polem's escape on horseback made national headlines

Jade Polem looks back on her saddle to safety with horse Maya.

Contributed

Jade Polem looks back on her saddle to safety with horse Maya.

When Jada Polem swings into the saddle, she has flashbacks of the Fort McMurray wildfire.

Polem’s story of a dramatic, 15 km ride to safety aboard her palomino Quarter Horse mare, Mya, told first by Metro, made headlines across Canada as tens of thousands fled the northern Alberta disaster. 

“Every time I’m riding any horse, as soon as I put my leg over, you get that quick flashback of going straight, but as soon as you look behind you everything’s just up in flames,” said Polem. 

“It’s flashbacks every time you do something that’s involved with the fire, whether it was driving out or riding out.”

The day before the fire her family moved their three horses from the Clearwater Horse Club to a campground on the north side of Fort McMurray. But the winds shifted, and by Tuesday they had to move the horses again. But with the evacuation underway and fire bearing down, no horse trailers could get through to help. They had a trailer only big enough for two horses, and the only way to get Mya out was to ride. 

Polem said the horses were anxious and knew tensions were high. When they returned to Fort McMurray after the fire, riding through the fields around home the horses were still unsettled. 

“The smell of home is here, but they can still sense that something’s happened and things have changed,” Polem said. 

The 17-year-old, soon-to-be high school graduate said having a year to reflect on the fire, her harrowing escape and what lies ahead for the community has given her a new perspective on things. 

Prior to the fire starting, Polem said she was making summer plans with family and friends.  She recalled the Saturday prior as just another hot, summer day. Within a day, smoke and flames started showing. 

“That’s when everything changed,” she said. 

“You literally live day by day. This year you almost expect something to happen because you’re feeling so prone to something happening.”

Polem said every day things are inching back to normal. When Metro spoke with Polem, the day of the one-year anniversary of the fire, she said there was a noticeable tension. People still talk quite frequently of the fire - some more than others - but it’s always in the back of people’s minds. 

For her, riding has provided that daily routine that she can count on as the post-fire days pass by. 

“Riding horses just makes it more settling because it’s an everyday thing and you know that it feels more normal than not having (the horses) around,” Polem said. 

The horse community in her area will commemorate the Fort Mac wildfires with a barbecue and fellowship this weekend, looking back at those terrifying few days together, while plotting what lies ahead. 

“I’m pretty OK with it. You’ve just got to accept it and realize that it did happen and you can’t fix anything in the past.”

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