In 2003, Debra Roed’s home was on the front page of the newspaper.
Her orange flowers in the front yard were dried to a crisp in the photo, after wildfire destroyed her home.
This time around, as emergency crews battle the Joe Rich wildfire, which at its peak caused an evacuation of more than 1,000 people, Debra and her husband Murray Roed volunteered at the Willow Park Church evacuation centre to give back to the community that treated her so well when she was a wildfire evacuee.
“What drew me to do it was that I wanted to help and give back because so many people in the community did that for us, but until now I don’t think I was able to emotionally,” she said.
She volunteered for three days, helping evacuees register and hearing their stories.
“For me it was more of an emotional thing,” she said. Hearing the stories was the hardest part for Debra, as it brought back memories of losing her home.
The constant smoke, helicopters carrying buckets and airplanes circling nearby also cause anxiety.
“I’m sure everyone who’s been through it, they see a helicopter go by, they hear it. They hear those small planes, they see the buckets. It really does come to the forefront of your mind, the anxiety and angst that you’ve gone through,” said Debra.
She’s not the only one, her friends also associate the helicopters with memories of previous wildfires and evacuations.
“It’s the concern and worry about the people around you,” she said.
Volunteering at the centre allowed Debra to talk about her experiences and share them with others.
“They’ve gone through what we went through,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
She lived in her home in Crawford Estates for a year and a half with Murray and her two young daughters, nine and 11 at the time, before it was ravaged by wildfire.
When she received help from the evacuation centre, she said “everybody we spoke with were awesome. They were genuine and they cared.”
Debra wanted to thank all the volunteers at the evacuation centre who have been working tirelessly to provide evacuees with resources.
She now lives with Murray in their home on Silver Place.