Relief and gratitude for residents returning home after evacuation ends

Prince Albert Fire Chief Kris Olsen watches a water truck roll past Thursday afternoon on Hwy 55. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The first thing on Ray Littlechilds’ mind as he rolled up to his house Thursday evening was appreciation.

Littlechilds was one of many residents forced to evacuate after the Cloverdale Fire started north of the river on Monday. After being allowed to return home, the long-time Prince Albert resident had nothing but gratitude for the emergency services personnel who kept his residence safe.

“We thought it was handled very professionally, so we’re very positive,” Littlechilds said. “We were very scared that we would lose our home, but we feel the emergency services people did a very professional job.”

There were some nervous moments for Littlechilds, especially when high winds ripped through the area on Tuesday, making already difficult conditions even more challenging. Emergency crews used heavy machinery to create a fire break not far from his house, and the winds eventually blew the fire away from his property, not toward it. Travelling back home, he realized just how quickly things could have gone wrong.

“If the wind shifted, I think there’d be a lot more damage,” he explained. “The house would have been gone. We were hoping we wouldn’t have any damage, and we didn’t. We escaped.”

Littlechilds wasn’t the only resident thanking emergency crews for their response on Friday. When homeowner Robin Slowenko evacuated with his wife on Monday, they took nothing but their pets and the clothes on their back.

Slowenko had a few sleepless nights wondering if the house would still be there when they got back. He also had nothing but gratitude for the crews that kept their home safe.

“The words ‘dodged a bullet’ I think, is an apt phrase for every homeowner out in this area,” he said.

That gratitude extends beyond firefighters. When Slowenko and his wife returned home they found the power on and a police car watching over the entrance to their street. A SaskEnergy employee also showed up to make sure the furnaces were running.

“We’re just glad to be home, glad everybody’s safe, and really want to express our thanks to everyone involved in fighting the fire,” he said.

Homeowner Kim Morrall and her family were among the first to evacuate after the fire began on Monday. She said it was a relief to return home, but there was also some curiosity about what the damage on her property would look like. Fortunately, it was minimal.

Like other homeowners, she was quick to credit emergency crews for their quick response.

“It’s amazing how well it came together—and how much they’re still doing—and we’re grateful,” she said. “We’re grateful for everything they’ve done, because it could have been so much worse.”

Evacuees from a subdivision in the RM of Garden River were allowed to return to their properties Thursday night, meaning all property owners are back home. Now, their attention turns to a relaxing long weekend, and preparations for the next fire that may come through the area.

The recent experience has Slowenko thinking about purchasing a sprinkler system to offer some protection during dry seasons. Both Slowenko and Littlechilds also say it would be good to speed up how quickly deadfall gets removed from the area.

What hasn’t changed is their love for the area. That’s something one wildfire can’t turn to ashes.

“I like the forest. I like the trees. I’m a nature buff,” Littlechilds said.

“I really like the shelter and the wind-break that the forest gives us. We’ve lived there for 17-18 years now, and we love it there.”