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In Pictures: Support pours in for Slave Lake as evacuees wait for answers

Ashley Brazean left Slave Lake a year ago to start a family of her own,leaving behind her mother, sister and aunt and a slew of memories.

Ashley Brazean left Slave Lake a year ago to start a family of her own, leaving behind her mother, sister and aunt and a slew of memories.

“That’s my whole childhood that just burned down,” said Brazean, as she dropped off donations at the Westlock Community Hall, now an evacuation centre for those displaced by wildfires in her devastated former town 250 kilometres north of Edmonton.

By Monday evening a third of Slave Lake had been destroyed and 10,000 residents were either without homes, or waiting to hear the fate of theirs as fires raged out of control.

Rescue officials were knocking on doors in the abandoned town to make sure everyone was out safely, and no one stayed behind as hundreds of firefighters combated the blazes.

Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said the RCMP station and hospital were still standing but the town hall and library were gone.

Homes of Brazean’s mother, aunt and sister were among those lost in her hometown, now reduced to rubble in many areas.

Her new town of Westlock meanwhile had opened up its town hall, pet shelters, homes, wallets and closets for their neighbours down the highway.

“The amazing thing is people brought all of this in with no advertising,” said Westlock Legion president Steve Folkins, of the tables upon tables of clothing, toiletries, food and bedding donated by citizens and businesses. “There are semis coming in from Fort Saskatchewan, St. Paul, Edson and Sherwood Park tonight, too.”

An abandoned Saan store opened at 4 p.m. when the Legion ran out of donation room.

While the town’s motel rooms have been all but spoken for, Westlock Community Centre was still taking evacuees Monday evening, providing 24-hour food, shelter, animal housing, medical attention and counselling for people driven from their homes.

Residents, many given mere minutes to evacuate, were initially told to stay off highways. In doing so, many were forced to change course as they tried to flee flames to safety.

“It looked like a nuclear bomb hit,” said Ian Cameron, who left with his girlfriend and the clothes on his back, and a few photos as he saw the flames approaching. “It was chaotic, a thousand or so people trying to leave at the same time.”

He’s not sure if his home is still there.

But Rhonda Oldfield, like thousands of others, knows there is no hope for hers.

“I had no money when I left and had maybe five minutes to get out of the building. I lost stuff that can’t be replaced,” said Oldfield. “My whole building is gone and I don’t have insurance, I have nothing.”

Denise Deguchi, who took an hour to pack before leaving Slave Lake with her two young sons, husband and a few mementoes, is upset with the way things were handled.

“There was NO evacuation, we were stuck,” she said. “They told us were couldn’t leave – we were in lockdown,” she added, noting her family finally got out around 9:30 p.m.

Alberta cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk called the Slave Lake evacuation the largest single-day displacement in the province ever.

Premier Ed Stelmach, dubbed the devastation in Slave Lake the “worse curve ball nature has thrown at us in recent memory” stating he has already spoken to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said federal money had been set aside for fire victims.

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