A young family evacuated from Fort McMurray last month as a massive wildfire threatened the city could be going home this week, but have decided to stay in Terrace for the time being.
Jen and Lee Suurhoff have enrolled their eldest daughter, Madelyn, 6, in a local school as well as with a gymnastics program alongside her two-year-old sister, Reece.
“We probably won’t be going back for a while, we’re planning to finish the rest of the school year here,” said Jen Suurhoff this week. “We’ve sort of transitioned into a normal lifestyle.”
The family received an outpouring of community support upon their arrival last month which helped them settle in for longer at the home of local relatives.
The wildfire which ripped through sections of Fort McMurray early last month narrowly missed their home, but melted the siding and caused smoke damage to their property.
Residents of the northern Alberta city are being allowed to return in stages this week as services are gradually restored.
When they do return home, Jen Suurhoff says they plan to camp either in their driveway or at a local provincial park while repairs are done at their house.
In the meantime, Jen will be looking for a tent trailer for the family to use when they return home. They’ve decided the drive back to Fort McMurray is too long for the family to make an extra trip to survey the damage before they move in.
“Once we leave here, we’re going to be going home. We just need a good place to stay while we fix our house,” Suurhoff explained.
She says that aerial footage of the community has helped her find out the fate of the family home.
“We got new pictures a week ago and it looks like some of the siding has been melted off, half of our street burnt down, we missed that by a couple of houses,” she said.
“It looks like there will be some smoke damage and there were water bombers all over our street. We left our windows open, so we’re not really sure what we will be going home to.”
The family will not know the full extent of the damage until their insurance provider is able to enter the house for an inspection.
They did receive the initial financial support provided by the Canadian Red Cross after the evacuation in addition to community donations of clothing and other items last month.
The Red Cross will also provide evacuees with additional monies and clean-up kits upon their return to the community in the coming weeks and months.
Jen and the two children are staying with her parents while Lee has already returned to work in a camp north of Fort McMurray. Jen says that her stay in Terrace has certainly been memorable.
“We’ve come to know the community a bit better. It’s been really welcoming, it has definitely been a great experience,” she said.
“In some ways, it will probably be really hard to leave.”