“It was a huge shock seeing the devastation and coming to terms with it as the new normal,” said Erika Margeson, a former Pictou County resident who along with her husband Connor and five week old baby fled the flames. “It took a long time for it to feel like home to us again. It's still a lot to process.”
This week as the country and the city in particular remember the fire, she said it has been odd for everyone living there.
“We talk about the fire every day, we see what it left all around us, but somehow the anniversary is stirring up lots of unsettled feelings,” she said. “I can imagine those who still aren't back in their homes or still fighting to get back to normal are just completely overwhelmed”
The Margesons were among the lucky ones. After a frightening exit that involved a plane ride from a northern camp to Calgary, they ended up returning to Nova Scotia temporarily while the evacuation orders were in place. Their home, although it sustained smoke damage was structurally ok.
“My husband returned back to Fort Mac in early June when residents were first allowed back, he had been staying in camp for work. We didn't return until July because they advised people with small children and respiratory issues to say away for a bit longer.”
They had to have everything in the house professionally cleaned from the walls to their clothes and attic insulation replaced. – “Nothing compared to many out here who are still battling lengthy insurance claims and rebuilds”.
Despite the cleaning and work, she said it was a relief to be home and they were grateful for what they had.
“It really felt like a different sense of community in Fort Mac when we came back. People were and still are hurting –It's hard to explain how it felt really– but everyone went through a devastating experience on different levels but somehow it was like we all went through it together so we have this weird bond with complete strangers.”
It’s created a new sense of community and love and appreciation for life, she said.
“You find out pretty fast what matters that’s for sure.”