On the day of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, redemption and retribution were everywhere.
Two years later, author Therese Greenwood relives those moments in her short stories by writing fictional accounts of the events which took place in her neighbourhood on the day of the fire.
A crime writer and a former Wolfe Island resident, Greenwood moved to Abasand in Fort McMurray in 2011. Five years later, she was losing her home due to a rampant wildfire.
“I was living out there for four years in a neighborhood called Abasand, it was one of the three neighborhoods in Fort McMurray that were seriously affected. We lost our house to the fire that day,” Greenwood told The Journal.
Despite losing her home and belongings to the wildfire, Greenwood expressed it was a “privilege to be an eyewitness”—an opinion many people might not share.
After years of writing fictional scenarios where people had to make split-second decisions that would impact their lives permanently, she was forced to do the same. Then she saw the same thing happen over and over to her neighbours.
“Ordinary people were helping neighbours, not leaving until others were on their way out. Cab drivers pulled over to the sides of the roads and just picked people up and drove them out of town. People were running out of gas and other people were pulling over to pick them up,” Greenwood told The Journal.
The decisions her neighbours made that day were instinctive but also surprised Greenwood, who vividly remembered strange scenes including people fleeing their homes cradling bags of dog food. Even in the most extreme circumstances, people remembered their responsibility to care for their pets, their families, and the strangers who shared their despair.
“It was incredibly powerful.”
In her new collection of short stories, Kill As You Go, Greenwood explores redemption and retribution—a theme she’s spent her entire career writing about.
“I was looking through my stories that I wrote after the fire, to see if thematically things had changed for me and I found that all along, [I’d] been attracted to the idea of ordinary people faced with a split-second decision.”
One story in her collection, “Cry Havoc,” is set on the morning of the Fort McMurray fire. It follows a dogcatcher who starts her workday responding to reports of barking. She arrives at a house where a dog is locked in the backyard without food or water. The situation escalates when she calls for help as a neighbour pulls a gun.
While being evacuated—and like many of Greenwood’s stories—a character makes a split-second decision to disarm the neighbour.
Although each story has a moment similar to “Cry Havoc,” not every story in Kill As You Go is about the Fort McMurray wildfire. The stories in the collection are, according to Greenwood, simply her 14 best.
“Coffin Hop Press approached me because this is the year of women in publishing,” Greenwood said, “but this collection has taken me about 15 years.”
While it’s taken a long time to accumulate the 14 stories in Kill As You Go, Greenwood hasn’t been working exclusively on this collection for the past 15 years.
She took the past couple years to write a memoir called What You Take with You: Wildfire, Family, and The Road Home, which will be published by University of Alberta Press in 2019.
The memoir is focused entirely on her firsthand experience with the wildfire. Greenwood shares how she moved on after losing her home and all of her belongings. It’s a story about loss, grief and resilience, much like the stories in her collection Kill As You Go.
She offers her eyewitness account of the life changing event, which affected herself and her neighbours forever.
After her memoir is published, Greenwood intends to continue writing and exploring the ways people respond to situations in a split-second, life-altering decisions or risk the consequences.
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