Slave Lake wildfire stories bound in new book
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The day after a wildfire ripped through her hometown in May 2011, Slave Lake resident and teacher Nicola Ramsey wrote down her story.
“I just wanted to kind of put it in perspective,” she said. “And then I asked some people that I know if they would (write) me their story about what happened to them.”
From there, the collection of stories from residents, first responders and evacuation centre volunteers snowballed. Ramsey soon teamed up with Joe McWilliams, editor of the Slave Lake Lakeside Leader, who had an idea of putting together a book.
“We both agreed instantly that this was a great idea,” said McWilliams. “Somebody had to do it, and why not us?”
The Sky Was On Fire: Slave Lake’s Story of Disaster, Exodus and New Beginnings was self-published in December 2012 with the help of a government grant, and more than 2,000 copies have already been sold.
Ramsey’s husband, Len, also a teacher, and forestry educator M.J. Kristoff joined on, and the foursome asked for submissions from residents and conducted interviews with them, collecting more than 100 stories.
The 300-page hardcover book is all of those stories woven into one narrative.
“We started it thinking it would be a way to preserve some local history when it was fresh in people’s minds,” said Ramsey. “Then we realized maybe it was a little bit more than a history – it was also a way for people to heal.”
Buy the book
Wildfire response changed, as investigation continues
Nearly six months after a wildfire chased 9,000 people from the Town of Slave Lake, destroying more than 400 homes and structures, and leaving behind $700 million in damage, arson was determined the cause.
K Division RCMP announced a year ago they were looking for six people seen in the area who could have information, but no further updates have been released.
In the meantime, there have been changes to the province's response to wildfires.
Duncan MacDonnell, public affairs officer with Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development department, said recommendations from a 2011 report are still being looked at, but that last year the wildfire operations centre was realigned, FireSmart programs expanded, and firefighting personnel and equipment sent one month early, for March 1 instead of April 1, which will happen again this year.