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Stephenville woman loses sleep because of close call in Alberta wildfire


Despite having suitcases packed and items ready to take, Judy Hoots is finding it difficult to sleep with the “eerie” thoughts of being in her mobile trailer home less than 30 minutes before it went up in flames.

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Mike and Judy Hoots of Stephenville lost their mobile home in the wildfire that hit Fort McMurray last week.

Her husband, Mike Hoots, was working at the Suncor site north of the Fort McMurray when the wildfires began coming close to the city.

Judy left her Beacon Hill home last Tuesday at noon to pick up a co-worker and head to work at Keyano College.

The call came at 1 p.m. to evacuate the city, and her usual six-minute drive from work to home took close to an hour.

While in the house gathering up items, she heard the police outside saying “evacuate now,” and she rushed to get her photo albums, clothes and computers into the car.

She left Beacon Hill by 2:05 p.m.

Neil Hynes, who is also from Stephenville, left the same area at 2:30 p.m., and told Judy her home was on fire. She had driven five minutes past the smoke when Highway 63 was closed behind her as she headed south.

“It was just so eerie being in the trailer and looking around to see what you should take while the police were calling for you to leave,” she said.

Now when she closes her eyes to sleep, she recalls those moments and still sees that high wall of orange flames and black smoke.

Hoots said she gets overwhelmed when she thinks about some of the things she and her husband lost — items that can’t be replaced like quilts her mom made for her.

But, when she thinks of her son coming out of the city after dark and her grandkids and relatives living there all getting out OK, she counts her blessings.

She said it was heart-wrenching on the highway out of Fort McMurray seeing vehicles, including campers and buses, in ditches after running out of gas.

Hoots was fortunate enough to have a full tank to make it to her son’s home in Rochester. She was still in that town Monday, and said neighbours there have been fantastic, providing evacuees with about $500 worth of food.

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