New vegetation sprouts from the forest floor while surrounded by scorched trees at Gregoire Lake near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Wildfires forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 people. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Like all Canadians, I watched the nightly news in disbelief as wildfires devastated the Fort McMurray region throughout the months of May and June. I read about how the blaze destroyed roughly 2,400 homes and buildings, and how 80,000 people were forced out of their residences for nearly a month.
But I still wasn't fully prepared for what I experienced during my visit last week.
I'm a professional forester and I've seen my fair share of forest fires up close. Still, the vastness of this fire and extent of damage in an urban area was sad, sobering and more than a little eerie. Once-vibrant neighbourhoods now looked like cemeteries. Hundreds of burnt cars, pieces of patio furniture and still-standing stone chimneys were coated with an ashen-coloured paper and water mixture to prevent the toxic ash from flying. The only things left standing intact was a cluster of Canada Post mailboxes. They were just sitting there with no damage at all, their colours and numbers still strangely unblemished, with everything else around them either burned or melted away.