Back on track in Fort Mac

Your home is destroyed by fire. You’re six months pregnant. You’re separated from your husband and two children as you flee the flames.

Would you look back on that a year later and say it was a blessing?

That’s how HSAA member Jennifer Oger and her husband David see what happened to them when the Beast of Fort Mac burned through their lives in May 2016.

“The blessings during that time were incredible,” says David, one of the Fort Mac firefighters who tackled the blaze, in a book about last year’s events titled Muscle and Heart, Fort McMurray Fire Stories. “I’ve never been on the receiving end of people’s generosity like that. It was truly humbling to be blessed that way.”

On the day the fire struck, and in immediate aftermath, things were different.

Jennifer, a medical radiation technologist, was working at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray that day.

“I looked outside and could see all the smoke and the flames,” says Jennifer. “I called Dave … he’s telling me to jump in the river if I have to. Honestly, I was fearing for my life that day, I really was. I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t allowed to go south and I was scared that if I started to go up Beacon Hill I would get stuck and I couldn’t run because I was so pregnant. I was just terrified and didn’t know what to do.”

As the day progressed, the members of the Oger family found themselves heading in different directions. Dave was at home working in the yard with a friend, another firefighter.

“As soon as the wind changed, we knew something was wrong,” he says. His friend headed home to take care of his family, while Dave took his two boys, five-year-old Alexander and three-year-old Ethan to a neighbour, Michelle, who was caring for five of her own seven kids that day. Michelle took on an extra two kids while Dave headed to work, as it was all hands on deck to fight the fire.

Michelle and all the kids in her care were soon evacuated south to Edmonton. A little later, Jennifer was evacuated north towards the oilsands camps, while Dave stayed behind with the fire crews.

Imagine the separation anxiety a pregnant mother feels when her kids are heading one way, while she heads on the opposite direction and her husband stays in the danger zone. “My (cell)phone was going dead and I was running out of gas,” says Jennifer, describing her flight north. She pulled over to the side of the road to abandon her vehicle and waited for her brother, who was also heading north out of town. At about 10:30 p.m. that night, she was able to turn around and head south, driving all night through smoke and flames to get to Edmonton. She arrived at the hotel where Michelle has been put for the night with the children at 7:30 a.m. the next morning.

While mother and kids were quickly reunited, it would be several weeks before she and Dave saw each other again. She and the boys flew east to spend time with family in Newfoundland and Ottawa.

Jennifer returned to Fort Mac, and to work, in June, five weeks after the fire began. The children didn’t come home until July.

While the evacuation and separation were hard, the family got to see the best of people, often strangers, who came to their aid.

“People were very generous,” says Dave, describing the gifts people made to get the family back on their feet. Jennifer adds: “We actually had to turn down some stuff. We got to the point where other people needed it more than us. We didn’t fell right about taking stuff anymore.”

She describes her experience at the airport in Edmonton two days after the fire struck, as she and the boys waited for a flight to Eastern Canada.

“I basically wore my scrubs for two days. When I was at the airport, I’m pretty sure everybody knew I was from Fort McMurray. Ethan had only one shoe … we were all looking dirty and haggard,” she says.

“The WestJet agent was trying to find some shoes at lost and found for him … she offered her house for me if I couldn’t get on one of the flights until later. She said: ‘I’ve got a trampoline, the kids can play. There are toys.!’ “

Fortunately, the offer wasn’t needed because they were able to get on a plane.

Meanwhile, a lady at the airport gave her $10 and told her to get a cup of coffee. The man sitting next to her on the flight asked if she needed money, but she declined.

While Jennifer and the boys were away, Dave was fighting fires. One of the hard days was when he was battling to save homes in one neighbourhood when he realized his home was at risk.

What’s it like when you’re fighting fire at one house when you know your home is probably going down in flames at the same time?

“Well, I was mostly concerned about our dogs, who were still at home,” says Dave. “I was kind of freaked out about them, so I asked my captain if I could get released … he said: ‘No, you’re needed here.’ So, I got on Facebook as quick as I could and put out a plea … for anybody to go to the house and rescue the dogs.”

A friend was able to take two of the dogs right away. A third had to be rescued later, but survived.

Now, the Oger family – and much of Fort McMurray – are well on the road to recovery. After renting a home for six months, the Ogers have bought a new home with their insurance settlement. It’s nicer than their old one, they say.

Alexander and Ethan sometimes miss their former home – and the toys that were burned – but they’re happy. The fire and evacuation were more of an adventure for them than a crisis. They were joined at the end of August by younger brother Jaxon, who caused some anxiety of his own before being delivered safely.

Labour was induced a month early after he was found to have an umbilical varix – essentially a bubble on the umbilical cord that affects blood flow to the baby.

“They said there’s a potential blood clot forming in the umbilical vein … and if it does actually form a blood clot, it’s fatal to the baby … We didn’t know if there was going to be any mental retardation, so we were pretty scared, pretty upset,” she says. “But it all worked out good.”

They named him Jaxon, because it means God is gracious, which sums up how they feel about what the family, and their community, has endured in the last year.

The Ogers are thriving. The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre is back up and running at full steam. Fort Mac is back on track.

That’s how HSAA member Jennifer Oger and her husband David see what happened to them when the Beast of Fort Mac burned through their lives in May 2016.

“The blessings during that time were incredible,” says David, one of the Fort Mac firefighters who tackled the blaze, in a book about last year’s events titled Muscle and Heart, Fort McMurray Fire Stories. “I’ve never been on the receiving end of people’s generosity like that. It was truly humbling to be blessed that way.”

On the day the fire struck, and in immediate aftermath, things were different.

Jennifer, a medical radiation technologist, was working at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray that day.

“I looked outside and could see all the smoke and the flames,” says Jennifer. “I called Dave … he’s telling me to jump in the river if I have to. Honestly, I was fearing for my life that day, I really was. I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t allowed to go south and I was scared that if I started to go up Beacon Hill I would get stuck and I couldn’t run because I was so pregnant. I was just terrified and didn’t know what to do.”

As the day progressed, the members of the Oger family found themselves heading in different directions. Dave was at home working in the yard with a friend, another firefighter.

“As soon as the wind changed, we knew something was wrong,” he says. His friend headed home to take care of his family, while Dave took his two boys, five-year-old Alexander and three-year-old Ethan to a neighbour, Michelle, who was caring for five of her own seven kids that day. Michelle took on an extra two kids while Dave headed to work, as it was all hands on deck to fight the fire.

Michelle and all the kids in her care were soon evacuated south to Edmonton. A little later, Jennifer was evacuated north towards the oilsands camps, while Dave stayed behind with the fire crews.

Imagine the separation anxiety a pregnant mother feels when her kids are heading one way, while she heads on the opposite direction and her husband stays in the danger zone. “My (cell)phone was going dead and I was running out of gas,” says Jennifer, describing her flight north. She pulled over to the side of the road to abandon her vehicle and waited for her brother, who was also heading north out of town. At about 10:30 p.m. that night, she was able to turn around and head south, driving all night through smoke and flames to get to Edmonton. She arrived at the hotel where Michelle has been put for the night with the children at 7:30 a.m. the next morning.

While mother and kids were quickly reunited, it would be several weeks before she and Dave saw each other again. She and the boys flew east to spend time with family in Newfoundland and Ottawa.

Jennifer returned to Fort Mac, and to work, in June, five weeks after the fire began. The children didn’t come home until July.

While the evacuation and separation were hard, the family got to see the best of people, often strangers, who came to their aid.

“People were very generous,” says Dave, describing the gifts people made to get the family back on their feet. Jennifer adds: “We actually had to turn down some stuff. We got to the point where other people needed it more than us. We didn’t fell right about taking stuff anymore.”

She describes her experience at the airport in Edmonton two days after the fire struck, as she and the boys waited for a flight to Eastern Canada.

“I basically wore my scrubs for two days. When I was at the airport, I’m pretty sure everybody knew I was from Fort McMurray. Ethan had only one shoe … we were all looking dirty and haggard,” she says.

“The WestJet agent was trying to find some shoes at lost and found for him … she offered her house for me if I couldn’t get on one of the flights until later. She said: ‘I’ve got a trampoline, the kids can play. There are toys.!’ “

Fortunately, the offer wasn’t needed because they were able to get on a plane.

Meanwhile, a lady at the airport gave her $10 and told her to get a cup of coffee. The man sitting next to her on the flight asked if she needed money, but she declined.

While Jennifer and the boys were away, Dave was fighting fires. One of the hard days was when he was battling to save homes in one neighbourhood when he realized his home was at risk.

What’s it like when you’re fighting fire at one house when you know your home is probably going down in flames at the same time?

“Well, I was mostly concerned about our dogs, who were still at home,” says Dave. “I was kind of freaked out about them, so I asked my captain if I could get released … he said: ‘No, you’re needed here.’ So, I got on Facebook as quick as I could and put out a plea … for anybody to go to the house and rescue the dogs.”

A friend was able to take two of the dogs right away. A third had to be rescued later, but survived.

Now, the Oger family – and much of Fort McMurray – are well on the road to recovery. After renting a home for six months, the Ogers have bought a new home with their insurance settlement. It’s nicer than their old one, they say.

Alexander and Ethan sometimes miss their former home – and the toys that were burned – but they’re happy. The fire and evacuation were more of an adventure for them than a crisis. They were joined at the end of August by younger brother Jaxon, who caused some anxiety of his own before being delivered safely.

Labour was induced a month early after he was found to have an umbilical varix – essentially a bubble on the umbilical cord that affects blood flow to the baby.

“They said there’s a potential blood clot forming in the umbilical vein … and if it does actually form a blood clot, it’s fatal to the baby … We didn’t know if there was going to be any mental retardation, so we were pretty scared, pretty upset,” she says. “But it all worked out good.”

They named him Jaxon, because it means God is gracious, which sums up how they feel about what the family, and their community, has endured in the last year.

The Ogers are thriving. The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre is back up and running at full steam. Fort Mac is back on track.

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